Tuesday 28 November 2006
Philips' amBX - that's oxygen-saving marketing speak for 'ambient experiences', by the way - wants to play smoke 'n' mirrors with your gaming. With a bank of high-power LEDs, a few purring fans, some speakers and a rumbling keyboard rest, amBX aims to extend your experiences beyond the screen and into the air around you. But is it worth buying? We delved into the amBX treatment to find out.
The kit we were presented with was a no-expense-spared setup: four light sticks (two with inbuilt speakers), four fans, a rumble strip, one sub-woofer, and what Philips calls a 'wall-washer'. This acts as a central hub for the whole system, hiding behind your monitor and painting the wall with an appropriate shade of light - much like Philips' own Ambilight TV sets.
And it's amBX's evolving light show that's most immediate in enhancing the immersive qualities of your PC rig. Lights can act individually or as a group - imagine the system creating a sunrise by lighting up from one side to another, or slowly dimming as you step out of a lit room and into a shadowy alley. Or, they can imitate the dominant colour on-screen, adding impact to a bright blue sky.
What this brings to the action is hard to grasp but it's certainly pleasing and does exactly what amBX is attempting to achieve: enhanced immersion. The other bits and pieces are also effective: speakers, obviously, perform familiar functions; both the rumble strip and the fans can create neat touches, replicating the 'chunk-chunk' of a train riding the rails, for example, or enhancing the feeling of being outside in a storm.
But both devices need canny developers to use their potential to the full. Take Broken Sword: Angel of Death for a superb example of how amBX can be used intelligently to add something worthwhile to a game's experience: walk past an unlocked, openable door and a draft is unfurled from the fans, hinting at a way forward. It's an effect that enhances the atmosphere but without being intrusive.