E3 2010: SteelSeries

by: Chuck -
The world is full of premium brands that mainstream people are unaware of. For instance if you think of super cars you immediately think of Porsche or Ferrari but the best fastest production car in the world is the Bugatti Veyron and Bugatti isn’t exactly a household name. I bring this up because SteelSeries is like Bugatti in that they offer a high end/high quality product that most people are not aware of. Then again most people are professional gamers and that’s SteelSeries targeted audience.

After being a mostly PC accessory (mice and keyboards) SteelSeries is introducing a new line of gaming headsets for the Xbox 360. The units are the Spectrum 4XB and the Spectrum 5XB. SteelSeries is entering the console space because the Xbox 360 is now such a large part of the competitive gaming space that the MGL (and others) are using the system in their competitions.

Their product researched that headsets die in three major ways:
  • Gamers forget they are wearing them and when they stand up they rip the cords out of the headsets
  • Cords get tangled in chairs or on the desk.
  • The headsets are crushed in transport between matches
To combat the first issue they use a very long and very well anchored plastic plug to prevent the cord from being pulled out of the headset. To combat the second they are using a braided nylon cord which is not going to tear without using something sharp. The final threat is handled by having a headset that breaks nicely into three pieces for transportation. It’s worth noting that the different between the two units is that the 5XB has all of these features while the 4XB will feature the first two but will not break down.

Handling the headsets revealed a unit that is very light and comfortable to wear. The sets were designed so that people could play them for 12 hours at a time without wearing the player down. The units also have very comfortable ear pieces that those who have glasses will appreciate as they are designed to give enough that you can wear glasses and the headphones without having lines etched into the side of your head.

The real mojo of the devices comes in how the sound is presented to the users. SteelSeries recognized that good music headsets are not good gaming headsets as they focus on two different types of sound. If you’re gaming you’re listening for subtle small sounds like footsteps or an enemy reloading his gun. You don’t really need to hear all the big explosions in full details and the Spectrum headsets are engineered to help gamers gain that extra audio edge.

SteelSeries is also shipping an audio mixer product for the device with some nice competitive features. The first is that the device has separate volume control for in game audio and Xbox Live voice. This allows gamers to determine the perfect mix between the two. The audio mixer also features “LiveMix” which lowers the volume of the in-game audio when one of your teammates speaks and then raises it back 1.8 seconds. Why 1.8 seconds? Because that’s what their research with the top gamers in the world realized.

After talking to Kim Rom from SteelSeries I realized that the company is hardcore about making competitive gaming products. They aren’t trying to compete with Microsoft or Logitech, they are just trying to make stuff that helps players get an advantage on everyone else. I know this because we spent nearly 10 minutes talking about how their gaming mice are built so that you can match the refresh rate of the USB port to the refresh rate of your monitor so that you get better performance out of your mouse and that while DPI is important in gaming mice it’s the quality of those DPI that matters.

The Spectrum headsets are slated for release in Q3 of this year and pricing is yet to be revealed.

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