Microsoft Dashes Illumiroom Hopes; Next-Gen Technology Won't Appear With Next-Gen Xbox

Yesterday, we discussed a further demonstration of Microsoft's impressive IllumiRoom technology. This method of "expanded" rendering combines a Kinect and a projector to draw a much wider field of vision. Games can theoretically take advantage of this by mapping certain effects on to / around furniture, tracing explosions and bullets into 'offscreen' trajectories, or turning the entire wall of a room into a game field.

The technology is impressive, exciting, and not coming to the living room any time soon. That's the word from the technology's creators, Hrvoje Benko and Brett Jones, who told Engadget that the IllumiRoom tech won't even be publicly demo'd until SIGGRAPH this year. The current system works by combining a scanned image of the room (generated with Kinect) with a projector, but the apparatus, even built using off-the-shelf components, tops $500.

That's far too expensive for a peripheral on a next-generation console, and the hardware is still strictly in the prototype stage. Combining a projector + Kinect in a single piece of hardware for under $200 is a bit tricky, particularly when you consider that there's no way to repurpose the Kinect 2.0 that MS is supposedly going to ship with the new Xbox.

Why not? Simple. Kinect sits at the front of the living room, facing you. The IllumiRoom sits behind you.

Ironically, IllumiRoom looks like a lot more fun than Kinect ever was. Microsoft's motion-control gaming system might have wow'd gamers with a few good titles and flown off store shelves, but the list of smash hits for the peripheral is awfully short. IllumiRoom, in contrast, expands the game's area in a variety of ways. Developers could use the technology to add subtle tweaks (tracer fire extending off the screen, important items glowing on the wall) or to create a more cinematic experience. The options are additive, as opposed to an attempt to shoehorn "jumping up and down" into a gameplay feature.

It's telling that, 2.5 years after Kinect's launch, most of the current game integration that supports the peripheral focuses on voice commands. The idea that Kinect was going to reinvent gameplay has died on the vine, and apart from some dance and fitness games, no one is even trying to push the concept. Voice integration is a marvelous idea, but it was only one component of what was supposed to be a comprehensive reinvention of gameplay when Kinect was first shipped.

IllumiRoom is sexier. It looks like a lot more fun. Hopefully the SIGGRAPH demo will shine the light on a peripheral that might ship in 2-3 years and meaningfully enhance the then-mature Xbox Next's gameplay.