PAX East 2010 – Immerz KOR-fx Impressions

by: Tina -
More On: PAX East 2010 KOR-fx
I’m sure we all remember the rumble packs and rumble chairs of history that made attempts at marketing a gimmicky way of immersing you into your favorite FPS. Immerz, however, wants to assure you that there is no gimmick involved with their latest award-winning invention: the KOR-fx.

Read on to find out how CEO of Immerz, Shahriar Afshar, explains this and to see if you leave convinced, as well as my experience with the device while playing Left 4 Dead 2.

After being in development for 5 years under the scope of sciences like physics and ergonomics, Immerz will be ready to release the KOR-fx this year. Until then, Immerz has been traveling from convention to convention to showcase their new technology and turn skeptic to believer. I had the opportunity to speak with CEO of Immerz, Shahriar Afshar, to see if I could ease some of my own skepticism.

After having placed the very small triangular-esque device on my shoulders and played a chapter in L4D2, we discussed the science of the technology itself. Specifically placed on your chest just beneath your collarbones, the device sends vibrations to the nerves that are picked up by the brain’s limbic system where I am told your sense of emotion and sense of self reside. Vibrations that normally occur in this area are due to your vocal chords, so you will notice that as you speak that area is hit with your natural vibrations. The device, then, reproduces these vibrations to trick your brain into thinking that the sensation is indeed happening to you. Therefore, whatever sensation you feel becomes personalized and activates that part of the brain, meaning that emotions will be activated and magnetized.

Because of the engineering component to the KOR-fx in terms of the physics of resonant structures, the image will be projected into your brain. CEO of Immerz explains the sensation akin to a “spidey” sense or, more technically, a synergistic sense due to the combination of the visual, audio, and the vibrations.

So how does this device set itself apart from the rumble packs of the ages? Well, explains Mr. Afshar, it’s the lack of science in the other products. He dismisses them as ideas based on something that was meant to be “cool” rather than practical. One in particular that they stumbled upon in their patent researches was a device that was placed directly onto the collarbones to send information to the inner ear. Bass, however, is not meant to be heard but rather felt, so the device was not based in scientific research. Another, the rumble chair, targeted an entirely wrong part of the anatomy. These other devices create distractions rather than immersions into the experience of the game. The KOR-fx, being on the same plane as your ears, projects a 360 experience where you are the hardware and software that is activated by the device. So although you are aware of that experience, it feels natural rather than external.

What about the fact that the retail price is currently at $189.99? Given the diversity of the uses of the KOR-fx, Mr. Afshar is not concerned that consumers will be hesitant to find use with the device even at its price. They are confident that personal use at home will be an asset to them, given that the KOR-fx functions with 80% of content currently. You can experiment with your existing media – movies, music, games – and won’t tire of the experience. The vibrations themselves will also always be unique, responding to different media very uniquely and therefore making the experience always a fresh one. Plus, as the technology hits mainstream and begins to pick up, he assures us that the price will also come down.

However, currently he already sees a big market with gamers for this product. Particularly with PC gamers, they are given an advantage to spotting out enemies before others without having to use any illegal methods that might get them kicked out of servers. Do you hear that, FPS gamers? The KOR-fx promises to make you a better gamer.

Beyond the gaming realm, Immerz is also currently in negotiations with movie theaters to incorporate their upcoming wireless version to every seat in the house. They can then incorporate effects of their choice into the movies, inducing sensations of a wide variety including the wind, or balance.

So how did I feel with the KOR-fx? Traveling along the scenes of the Parish campaign in L4D2 with my dim-witted AI companions, I definitely felt more of a rush when I encountered the tank face-on. The vibrations are very subtle, but I’m told you can adjust the sensitivity to your liking. The full experience of sitting in the chair controller in hand, headset on head and KOR-fx on shoulders definitely tuned out any of my fellow-gamers standing and observing over my shoulder at the PAX East coonvention. I felt immersed and concentrated, but I’m not sure I can honestly say that the intensity I felt was due to the vibrations my limbic system was picking up. It could very well have been attributed to the fact that I knew I was about to man versus tank the situation given that Rochelle, Nick and Ellis were about halfway behind lingering around the opening safety room. I think I will have to spend a lot more time with the device and test it on other media before making an educated decision.

The first model, the wired version, will be available July 30th of this year and is already available for pre-order with plans for the wireless home-theater version to hit the second quarter of next year.

The KOR-fx comes with earbuds, 4 AAA batteries, and a USB power plug. It will works with any device that contains an audio out. Connecting to the Xbox 360 entails hooking it up to RCA cables, or directly to your television with audio out.
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