Philips shrinks their amBX system and aims it at PC and console gamers

The first time we heard of the Philips amBX system, it was a large and complex system that integrated into your home lighting and climate control system. The system then interfaced with your with your home theater to provide immersion in supported movies via mood lighting and blasts of heat or cold from your climate control system in an attempt to match the mood of the scene you were watching.

Last week at Quakecon 2007, Philips was on hand showing off a much smaller and more desirable amBX system aimed at the masses not interested in the full-fledged home theater system. Looking very much like a standard PC 5.1 surround sound system, Philips targets gamers with the new amBX system.

I was able to spend some time with the amBX system at Quakecon and was impressed with the results the amBX system offers. At its core the system uses four surround speakers that each have a light on top of them that can change to match different colors on your screen during your game.

A first for me was seeing a set of four surround fans, which are one of the most important aspects of the amBX system. You position the fans just as you would surround speakers with two in front of you and two behind. The fans themselves are quite small at about the diameter of a Coke can, but they put out an impressive amount of air that you can actually feel.

The final part of the amBX system is a transducer Philips calls the rumble. The rumble looks a lot like a sub-woofer for any other surround sound system, but doesn't produce lots of bass. The rumble is actually a transducer intended to allow you to feel explosions more than hear them. Philips promises the rumble is powerful enough to actually allow you to feel the grooves in the pavement during supported racing games, but I can’t verify that.

Naturally, since Philips was at Quakecon the game they were using to show off their amBX system was Quake 4. The system was able to produce good volume levels and the rumble did a fantastic job of allowing you to feel shots and explosions as they went off around you.

My favorite part of the system was the fans. It was hard to get the full experience in a large open area with lots of people walking by creating their own breezes at times. What the fans do is allow you feel the air displaced during explosions, feel the bullets as they whiz by your head or feel the air on your face as you fly over the battlefield in a troop transport or slide around the corners in an open-air racing machine.

The Philips amBX system requires special programming in game titles for the system to function. However, Philips developed a special application called amBX gaming FXGenerator to allow the amBX system to support games not coded natively for amBX. The current list of known compatible amBX Gaming FXGenerator titles is impressively long. Philips said they are working with other top-tier game developers for natively supported games, but would not comment on what developers they are in talks with. The amBX system will also be compatible with Xbox 360, PS3 and the Wii.

Current natively supported amBX game titles for the PC include Broken Sword: The Angel of Death, DEFCON, TOCA Race Driver 3, Rail Simulator, and Darwinia. Titles known to be compatible with the Gaming FXGenerator are listed on the amBX website (PDF).

The amBX system will come in a complete kit that includes four fans, four surround speakers with lights and the rumble for around $500, according to Philips. There will also be kits available for less cash that will allow you to build the complete system as your budget allows.

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive
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