Microsoft turns room into video game with IllumiRoom project

Microsoft Research will publicly demonstrate the technology in July

The IllumiRoom project from Microsoft Research turns a living room into a video game with projected images that extend and complement the main television screen. The realistic effect, if commercialized, could propel Microsoft's gaming business far beyond its competition.

The system uses a Kinect sensor and off-the-shelf wide angle digital projector. The Kinect sensor first scans the room, taking into account its geometry, furniture and colors. Once that information is captured, various "illusions" can be created, according to Hrvoje Benko[cq] a researcher at Microsoft Research, speaking Tuesday at the Computer Human Interaction conference in Paris.

"We know what your room looks like," said Brett Jones a Microsoft Research intern who worked on the project while earning his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "We have 3D information and we have color information. We take that and build a game experience around it."

For example, in a first-person shooter game, the scenery around the main character can be projected on the walls around the television screen. Or when the shooter is in a gun fight, bullets can appear to fly out of the television and whizz past the gamer.

"A lot of previous research has said, 'Let's take a virtual thing and put it in your physical environment,'" Jones said. "What we wanted to do is take a physical environment and make it virtual."

The research team started with games since that seemed to be the most natural fit, Benko said, adding that the technology could be extended to other media like movies and television.

To see an interview with Benko at the Computer Human Interaction conference in Paris, watch a video on YouTube.

Microsoft Research isn't working with any specific game developers at the moment, but solicited ideas and feedback from a few, Benko said.

He said not to expect any news about IllumiRoom at the upcoming Xbox announcement on May 21. "At this point it's purely a research project," he said.

Asked whether he thinks the project will one day move toward commercialization he said, "We obviously like to have things that will be adopted with a wider audience, but in terms of the final form factors and this particular implementation, that's an open question."

IllumiRoom will be publicly demonstrated at SIGGRAPH 2013, a research conference in Anaheim, California, in July, he said.

Creating the complementary content for the projected images is one potential challenge for game developers. If game developers wanted to extend the field of view, they would have to provide it, Benko said. It can't be imagined by the IllumiRoom system, he said.

"But some of the more effective [illusions] are about timing," he said. Some effects like the "radial wobble" could be "triggered in the periphery."

The radial wobble is a visually striking effect where the projector provides an exact copy of the room. When a shooter fires a gun, a sound-wave ripple can be seen moving across the room.

Another effect included lighting changes in the room as a race car drove along a course.

"I think the most effective ones will be the ones that are used sporadically to emphasize something in particular," he said.

In another demonstration, researchers showed a grenade bouncing on the television screen, rolling out in the living room and under a coffee table. He hopes the future of the project will allow the gamer to pick up the virtual grenade and throw it back into the game.

"You're breaking the barrier of what you can do for real and what you can do in a virtual sense."

Nick Barber covers general technology news in both text and video for IDG News Service. E-mail him at Nick_Barber@idg.com and follow him on Twitter at @nickjb.

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