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D-Box Quest Integrated Motion Simulation System Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 June 2005
Article Index
D-Box Quest Integrated Motion Simulation System
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ImageYou have probably noticed the vast library of articles in 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.


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