D-BOX Technologies, Inc. Universal Motion Platform 100
I don't know anyone who has actually admitted boredom with the traditional home theater experience, but perhaps that's because not all buffs realize just how many gear options are out there. A few years ago, I traveled up to Canada to demo a D-BOX Quest Chair, a sophisticated piece of furniture that adds realistic motion effects that are synchronized to the action and sound of particular movies. The result is akin to living the adventures of your favorite cinematic heroes, which is why the D-BOX-supported movies tend to be more car-chasey and less talky-talky.
Programmers at D-BOX headquarters watch a final retail copy of a DVD and write detailed digital codes for precise effects at key moments. The resulting software file for that movie comes pre-loaded on the hard-disk drive of the outboard D-BOX 340C controller unit that the company updates free for one year. I returned to the lower 48 as a qualified fan of D-BOX Integrated Motion Systems, albeit reticent at the chair's understandable $7,000 price tag (plus the cost of the controller) and, to a lesser extent, the limited style choices that their specific chair designs afford. Another thing I couldn't do up in Canada was share the experience with my friends and family—or rifle through my DVD collection and grab every title I thought might offer a good ride.
More Fun at Home
A lot's happened since then: D-BOX now supports more than 700 different movies, plus popular TV shows such as Lost and 24. They've also gone back and remixed certain older codes to further refine them, all while embracing Blu-ray by porting over existing codes to work with the high-def disc format. Select Fox Home Entertainment Blu-ray titles are pre-programmed with D-BOX motion codes right on the disc. Even the Kaleidescape introduction animation now has its own available motion effects. However, the big news is on the hardware front. D-BOX has introduced a Universal Motion Platform (UMP), essentially the "guts" of the chair, reconfigured to work with just about any seating that a home theater enthusiast might want to use. It incorporates a basic steel frame that you can assemble into different sizes and shapes. Just like the Quest chair, the UMP's actuators can generate left-to-right and up-and-down, as well as a combination of movement and vibration for virtually limitless possibilities. The platform's vibration and movement is rated at 0 to100 hertz: movement from 0 to 15 Hz and the rest for vibration emulation, with 1.5 inches total potential displacement. But trust me, it can feel like more when you're sitting there. The biggest functional difference is the thicker cushioning, which can reduce the actual physical interaction. The Cushion Factor is a custom-install product, so a professional will need to securely attach theater-style or other seating to the four actuator paddles and discreetly run the necessary cabling. D-BOX met me halfway; they sent their latest controller and a UMP plus a piece of plywood to lay over it, so I could easily swap out a variety of chairs.
The controller works with any DVD player that has a digital audio output, either optical or coaxial. I very quickly found myself craving a DVD changer, nevertheless. The more discs, the better, so I could more quickly switch from one movie to the next. The system feeds the raw audio into the controller where it synchs up with the movie. Then the audio signal travels back out to the receiver for processing and amplification. One Ethernet cable links the controller to the platform, and another cable optionally accesses high-speed Internet to update the bank of motion codes. Each code is a 3-to-8-megabyte file, which means that tens of thousands can fit onto the controller's 80-gigabyte hard-disk drive. The controller's default setting automatically downloads new codes once a week, but you can adjust it to download daily or monthly. Moreover, you can force a lookup/download anytime. The two vertical engines protrude slightly from the black plastic Integrated Motion System (IMS) enclosure, and three metal-and-rubber feet protect the floor under the platform. The feet also further isolate the user and reduce tension on the power and data cables.
Feel the Force. No, Really.
Operation is almost entirely automatic. Once a DVD begins to play, the controller takes about five seconds to identify the movie, loads the appropriate code, synchs to the movie, and starts sending the unique commands to the actuators in the platform. (If you skip a chapter, the controller takes another five seconds to re-synch.) Then the fun begins. As I watched the jumbo jet rescue scene from Superman Returns, I could only imagine what went through the programmers' heads when they created their original codes: "When the camera is on Superman, does he feel an impact less than a mere human?" In the end, their choices all just felt right, and it can be utterly thrilling. In The Empire Strikes Back, for example, you can feel the difference between the sharp asteroid collision in the Millennium Falcon and the more dissipated sting of a laser blast. Kudos to the programmers, as well as to the brushless electric stepper motor inside the IMS enclosure, which yields a wide variety of effects and the power to move bulky furniture with even bulkier occupants. The movement's precision was always spot-on, and the synchronization to the action was always perfect, as it must be. As good as The Empire Strikes Back's asteroid chase was, the snow battle was even better. In The Matrix, though, I was a little surprised that the gravity-defying, time-bending "bullet time" played as more artsy than in-your-face. Any scene with driving benefits especially well, as evidenced by D-BOX's recent addition of the Steve McQueen classic Bullitt. Sometimes I discovered little bonuses too, like the tactile underscoring of key beats of music, just to let you know that the UMP is still on the job. I used the compact remote primarily to adjust the volume, with confirmation on the controller's informative four-line blue LED display. However, I tended toward maximum power; if I want to add motion, I'm going to add motion.
Obviously a showoff piece of gear, the UMP 100 also rapidly became downright social, as I found myself subjecting first invited loved ones, and then anyone who dropped by Rancho Chiarella, to a series of enhanced movie clips. Without exception, the ride blew people's minds. Interestingly, while women seemed to love it without reservation, guys confessed to finding it a little distracting. Me, I'm going to get all misty-eyed when this thing ships back to the Great White North. Oh well, maybe they'll give me a crack at their recently announced loveseat/ sofa-ready UMP 200.
• Less expensive, more design-agnostic alternative to D-BOX's prefabricated motion chairs
• Enhances movies in ways you never knew you were missing
• Works with most of the popular DVDs you would expect