D-Box Quest Integrated Motion Simulation System - AVRev.com
D-Box Quest Integrated Motion Simulation System 
Home Theater Accessories Furniture & Racks
Written by Matthew Evert   
Wednesday, 01 June 2005

Introduction
You have probably noticed the vast library of articles in AVRev.com covering the latest and greatest video and audio components our industry has to offer you, the enthusiastic consumer. Much of the focus for home theater has been on enhancing sight and sound stimuli while watching movies, but what about the other senses? Certainly seeing and hearing a car crash can be exciting. Amazingly, now you can add the sense of touch to the crash. For years, there have been products that you bolt to your chairs that make your butt rumble and shake, yet these systems succeeded in doing little more than making my rear itch.

The D-BOX Quest chair is a completely new, revolutionary product that adds rumble and shaking effects to your simulated crash, as well as real-time motion, getting you one step closer to actually participating in the action. The D-BOX Quest recliner/loveseat uses a two-axis motion simulator system to bring you this next level of home theater experience for about $6,100.

D-BOX is a Canada-based company that started in the home theater business by making speakers and mammoth-sized subwoofers for custom applications. After discovering that some customers were buying extra subwoofers to add a shaking feeling to their movies, D-BOX realized they had stumbled onto a new market: motion simulators for home theater. Earlier Odyssee D-BOX systems were created using four actuators and were placed under large platforms, which were in turn placed under your existing home theater furniture. Actuators are very expensive components and so this led to a system price that started around $30,000 (not including the seating). By reducing the amount of actuators to two and integrating them into a home theater chair, the D-BOX Quest could now be sold as a more affordable motion solution.

Motion simulators are not a new concept in the entertainment world. Theme parks and high-end arcades have had incarnations of the motion simulator for years. The Star Tours “Star Wars” ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, California is the first to come to mind. The ride begins by herding people into a souped-up white freight container with speakers, a screen and some futuristic looking chairs. Then the doors close, the smoke comes out, the video starts and the space ship engine noises roar. It is at this point that the entire human sardine can tilts and rumbles like a pair of Air Jordans in the dryer. For those that have been on this ride or a similar one, it gives the complete illusion that you are physically moving with the action.

D-BOX takes some of the principles of a several-hundred-thousand-dollar motion simulator of the type employed by the Star Tours ride and packages it into a $10,000 system that will fit into your room. D-BOX brings you the next level of home theater by taking the best movies and adding well-choreographed movements to them. D-BOX literally puts the motion into motion pictures.

How does it work?
The D-BOX system starts with a pair of direct-drive actuators that move and lift the seating. These electro-mechanical lifts are capable of enacting up to 2Gs of acceleration and 500 pounds of lift on the seated subject. These actuators are mounted effectively under the back feet of the chair. A control cable is connected to either a D-BOX Series 3 Kinetron™ controller or a PC running the D-BOX motion control software. Either of these motion control devices is hooked up in series to your DVD player’s digital audio output. A digital bit-stream that is present in DTS and Dolby Digital-encoded movies is passed through the motion control devices and interpreted. From this digital information, the motion control device can determine the title of the movie being played, so it can select the correct D-BOX motion codes that are programmed for that particular movie. These motion picture codes can then be synchronized to the exact frame and time within the movie as it is being played. This allows for the preprogrammed D-BOX movements to occur exactly as the expert motion picture programmers at D-BOX intended.

The electro-mechanical hardware used by D-BOX is super trick and definitely a world apart from the mundane MOSFETs and D/A converters that we nerd writers drone on and on about in traditional equipment reviews. The real secret to the coolness of the D-BOX system is the creation of its proprietary motion codes that the company’s specially trained developers orchestrate. These choreographed motions are actually created by motion artists that interpret a given movie segment’s likely movements. Movement programming ranges in complexity from a simple door slam taking a matter of minutes to creating a huge car crash scene that could amount to several days of work.

So what qualifies the D-BOX programmers to interpret movie motion? For starters, they all have several years of film school training. Many are recording or movie sound engineers and have college software development degrees. D-BOX spends an average of two weeks encoding a single movie with their proprietary F/X motion codes. Having been to the headquarters myself, I have seen the developer’s test stations were they use a PC, some speakers and an Odyssee D-BOX system to tackle the tedious process of programming the codes. These five full-time programmers are not afraid of coffee and work some long hours to get an amazing 10-12 DVD titles done each month. These codes are sometimes available at the time of a movie’s release on DVD, since some manufacturers will give D-BOX a prototype DVD several weeks prior to the actual release date.

D-BOX currently has over 400 DVD titles programmed with motion codes, all of which can all be stored on either a PC or the Kinetron system. The codes are small, about the size of your average MP3 song (five to six megabytes) and a volume of about 100 F/X codes can fit on a single CD-ROM. Both motion control systems include D-BOX’s F/X Motion Code Volume 4 with approximately 100 titles (featuring most of the major films from 2004). An Internet subscription is also offered to send the user updates to the growing collection of D-BOX F/X motion codes. If you are watching a non-supported movie, playing a Playstation game or listening to music, the D-BOX system will still give you motion effects. The D-BOX controller uses the subwoofer or the low-frequency effects channel (LFE) from your preamp to simulate movements. This is done by measuring frequencies between 55-115 Hz and their relative amplitude and using one of the D-BOX proprietary algorithms to simulate motions.

The furniture pieces used by D-BOX in their Quest line-up are comfortable and look like modern yet elegant home theater chairs that you would find in a well done home theater room. The chair and loveseat (for two people) frames are constructed using hardwood solids and reinforced with 13-ply European hardwood plywood with metal-to-metal fasteners. This extra wood provides greater rigidity and strength to the frames, which is necessary to enable the furniture to withstand the substantial motional forces created by the direct-drive actuators. The actuators are hidden within the frame, so from the outside observer’s perspective, it looks no different than a typical recliner. The seats are well padded and protect the user from getting sore from all the shaking and bumping during the movies. Seating material options are six colors of NuSuede or 10 colors of premium leather. The two stage recliners can be motorized or mechanically driven to save cost. The chair only requires a few inches of space behind it to fully recline, making it ideal to fit in even small rooms. Non-activated seating is also available and can be outfitted at a later date with Quest motion components.

The cost of the system includes the controller and the chair itself. The Kinetron controller runs about $3,000 and offers a convenient control center for the D-BOX chairs. The controller looks like a preamp or another rack-mounted piece of audio/video equipment. It comes with a remote and has a 40 GB hard drive to store all the motion codes. If you have an old PC that you do not use much, you can elect to save $2,200 by using the Windows-based software instead to control your D-BOX chairs if you are hip to the idea of a home theater PC in your system at this stage of the game. The basic motion-enabled chair features manual recline and suede covering for about $5,300. The tricked-out leather loveseat with power recline is $10,300.

Software
Software is provided either by CD-ROM or by an Internet subscription. Each CD-ROM contains one year of titles, which comes to approximately 100 movie motion tracks. The cost of each CD is $250, or about $2.50 per movie. If you purchase the Kinetron controller, you get one CD loaded free, a $250 value. If you want all the available movies, sign up for hte annual internet update subscription for which you will need to dish out an additional $250 per year to capture all the new releases as they come. First time subscribers will receive Volumes 103 for free (a $750 value). Update subscriptions are also available via CD-Rom at $500 per year, the additional fee covering production and shipping charges.

Set-up
The set-up is as easy as unpacking the chair, placing it in your room and plugging in the power, then making the connection to either your PC running the D-BOX software or to the Kinetron Controller. You will then need to load the CD-ROM and wait about two hours while the F/X codes are uncompressed and loaded into your controller. After this initial loading process, all you need to do is load the DVD movie and the controller will figure out which one of the preloaded F/X codes to use. If you are playing music or an unsupported movie, make sure to select the correct simulation mode. You may also need an Ethernet connection to update the firmware or get newer F/X codes from the subscription service if you opt for it.

Music and Movies
“The Incredibles” (Walt Disney Home Entertainment) is the recent Oscar-winning animated adventure that tells of a superhero family out to save the world. The DVD F/X codes had not yet been released at the time we demoed the movie at D-BOX, so this was a rare opportunity to check out the motion-enabled version right as it came off the developer’s computer. I had never seen the movie before, so I was startled whenever a dramatic action scene occurred. The giant robot fight in the finale featured pounding rumbles when the robot arms crashed into buildings. The earthshaking steps of the robots brought up equally amazing movements as well. The chairs would drift from left to right slightly during the flying sequences, giving the user a floating feeling. “The Incredibles” is rich in action content, so there were never more than a few minutes where little movement was felt during the film.

“I, Robot” (Fox Home Entertainment) is the action-packed thriller that hit the big screen last summer. If you went to CES this year, you probably saw this movie a dozen times, since they made a HD-DVD version to promote the new format. The car in the tunnel scene was definitely one of the more intricate action sequences to employ D-BOX’s programmed motion. All the little details, from the robot punching in the car’s windshield to the stutter of gunfire, are captured by the F/X motion codes. My favorite effect was when the left side of the car ran over a dead robot. The front left side of the chair lifted, then quickly shifted to the back left of the chair rising up and then sharply falling back to normal. It felt just like when I ran over my 40-year-old yuppie neighbor. Okay, I just fantasized about it. I would never actually run him over, although the thought has crossed my mind a few times – he does complain about my stereo being too loud.

The Gap Band’s The Best of the GAP Band (Mercury) album is full of old-school funk tracks. The bass-intensive “Wide” is rich with bongos and a pounding bass drum that normally requires me to get permission to turn on my subwoofer from my downstairs tenant. I thought this would be a good demo for the D-BOX system while visiting their facility. The track began with just the bongos and the feeling from the chairs was a small tapping on my seat. As the bass drum chimed in, the vibrations became much more obvious and the shaking intensified. It felt a little like being in my buddy’s Honda Civic with a 1000-watt amp and Bazooka subs. I felt this was a little distracting, so I asked to turn the effects levels down a little. The motions thereafter became more pleasant. I think you will need to experiment a little with what your motion preferences are: for some, the more dramatic motions are righteous, while to others, they are an annoyance.

The Downside
The major bummer with most leading-edge technologies is the lack of applications to use the product with. Although there is an impressive list of movies that D-BOX supports, there are still a lot of applications that motion codes are not developed for yet. I will give Quest credit for working on as many relevant titles as possible.

The simulation modes for games, music and sports programming that D-BOX provides from the motion controller are nice, but are unimpressive relative to the movie F/X codes. HDTV programs that are filmed live will obviously be tough to program real-time, but pre-recorded weekly shows and sitcoms are possible to program for motion control, especially since there is digital audio that usually accompanies these programs that D-BOX can utilize in its existing systems. Games are another obvious choice for expansion, although games are more dynamic and variable in nature than movies and thus more difficult to program. In order to go to the next level, D-BOX will need to ink deals with the likes of EA and HDNet to provide more content in the future. Right now, it isn’t reality, but I can see it happening some day.

Lastly, I found myself favoring the Quest chair over the loveseat style. The extra weight of the bigger furniture and the extra person over a wider surface makes the movements less powerful and responsive. If you want to accommodate more people, I recommend you consider another chair or two instead. The controller can support up to four chairs at the same time.

Conclusion
The D-BOX Quest motion simulation chairs are an amazing innovation, many times more powerful than the ass-shaker type products of the past. They will certainly only get more popular with time as more and more people witness first-hand how cool motion is when added to your home theater experience. D-BOX has a quality product with a great selection of movie titles to choose from, in addition to adding simulated motion to movie and games, too. At a price starting around $6,000, this technology is finally getting more affordable to everyday consumers. I found myself admittedly skeptical prior to experiencing the D-Box system firsthand, but following my audition, this is something that I would like to own some day. The D-BOX system will definitely change the way you watch movies and is worth trying out for yourself. Hold onto your seat.
Manufacturer D-Box
Model Quest Integrated Motion Simulation System
Reviewer Matthew Evert





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