While game controllers come in all shapes, sizes and colors, the input technologies they feature are surprisingly universal. Nearly all game controllers receive some or all of their input from various switches of some type. More advanced controllers may also incorporate analog sticks, throttle wheels, visual sensors and motion sensors. Regardless of which combination of these input technologies are incorporated into a controller, the end result is nearly always a device that is controlled with the hands or feet, so it was quite refreshing to learn that OCZ's idea of a game controller doesn't require any of your extremities to operate.
OCZ Technology has laid claim to being the first company to bring a "brain-computer" interface to the retail market and they have aimed it squarely at the gamer. The device is called the NIA, which is an acronym that stands for Neural Impulse Actuator, and instead of buttons, sticks, gyroscopes or motion sensors, it reads the body's natural biosignals and translates them into commands that can be used to control PC games.
The NIA is able to detect three types of biosignals generated by your brain, facial muscles and eye muscles via a special headband. The user can bind these signals to any keystroke using the driver and configuration software. This allows the NIA to take the place of any keyboard command in any game. OCZ claims the NIA allows for a new level of immersion not possible with traditional tactile input devices. Not to mention the obvious advantage in input response time that a brain-computer interface could provide.
Now you may be understandably skeptical, as we certainly were. The whole concept of the NIA sounds more than a little outlandish. When we first heard of OCZ's interesting "brain-computer" interface a couple of years ago, we couldn't help but have visions of The Matrix. The very notion of controlling a computer with the mind conjures up images of exotic, fictional technologies from sci-fi movies. We were also slightly skeptical about the NIA's ability to improve our gaming experience, even if it were to work as advertised. Don't get us wrong, controlling the computer hands-free with our mind sure sounds neat, but we really like our mice, keyboards and gamepads. Perhaps we're old fashioned but there is at least one member of the HotHardware team that thinks the keyboard and mouse are the only input devices you will ever need, well at least for the foreseeable future.
As pundits at a computer hardware publication, there is only one way we know how to settle our suspicions and curiosity, as well as try and shed some light on this product for you. So we've obtained a retail-ready NIA sample and have put it through its paces to see for ourselves if it's the real deal or just another gimmick product.