Early in 2013, Microsoft showed off IllumiRoom, its concept peripheral that took what was displayed on your television and extended it to the surrounding room. We haven’t heard much from IlllumiRoom in a while, but now Microsoft is back with the newest version of technology, RoomAlive.
IllumiRoom didn’t purport to put you into the game like a virtual reality headset, but it did aim to create an experience more immersive than playing a game displayed within the finite bounds of your television. The original IllumiRoom used a Kinect to record the geometry and colors of a room, then used a projector to extend the video displayed on the TV to the surrounding environment. Many people speculated that IllumiRoom would be the Xbox One’s killer feature, as IllumiRoom appeared to be the next evolution of the Kinect. Instead, we got a more evolved Kinect that was eventually dropped in favor of lowering the price of the flailing Xbox One. Though the Kinect wasn’t really accepted by gamers, the IllumiRoom has the potential to provide a much better — and more utilized — experience. Now, with RoomAlive, we get to see the next evolution of that potential.
RoomAlive is still a concept, but it’s more advanced than IllumiRoom. It uses a similar rig — a Kinect strapped to projector depth-camera, known as a procam. Like the IllumiRoom, the Kinect is used as a sensor, and the projector is used to display imagery. Whereas the IllumiRoom uses one procam rig to extend the bounds of your television, RoomAlive uses six rigs to animate the whole room, and the Kinects’ sensor capabilities are used to make the whole display interactive. There’s a video of IllumiRoom at the end of the story, if you want to see how the two projects compare.
Essentially, RoomAlive — like IllumiRoom before it — is simply projection mapping used in an innovative way. With its animated wedding cake, Disney recently showed that projection mapping — even when relatively simple – can be impressive so long as it’s creative. RoomAlive is more complicated than projecting video onto the 3D surface of a cake, as it uses the Kinects to sense the shape of any room, then dynamically project the video onto the newly acquired geometry. Even more impressive, the Kinects track the head of the user as he moves around the room, and shift the image to his perspective.
Installation is easy enough as well. Normally, someone would have to manually calibrate a project mapping system, but once the six procam rigs are set up, the Kinects do the calibrating themselves.
RoomAlive is still a concept, and doesn’t look like it will be the new gaming peripheral for a long time coming. However, the concept works — as seen in the above video — and it’s just a matter of refinement at this point, however long and arduous that process may be.