Microsoft IllumiRoom Buzz Intensifies

IllumiRoom takes center stage as buzz builds for Microsoft's next game console. Does Redmond have another Kinect on its hands?

Microsoft's IllumiRoom technology is gaining renewed attention in the weeks before the company releases details on its next-gen Xbox console.

The tech first made its debut at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2013). The proof of concept from Microsoft Research showed how the combination of a Kinect sensor, a commodity projector and some software could allow game developers to add visual elements that "bleed" beyond an HDTV's bezels and onto surrounding surfaces in real time.

A peripheral, meant to sit atop a coffee table, scans the environment surrounding a TV, performs a self-calibration procedure and then splashes computer-generated visual effects on the area surrounding the main display. The aim, according to Microsoft, is to increase immersion.

As an early batch of videos show, IllumiRoom-enabled games can extend the field of view, render reality-warping effects, project star fields and bathe a home theater environment with weather effects like snow. While it is currently in the prototype stage, there are hints that like Kinect, IllumiRoom may evolve past its video-game-centric beginnings and extend into other areas like augmented reality.

In an April 29 post on its Website, the Microsoft Research team revealed that "IllumiRoom: Peripheral Projected Illusions for Interactive Experiences," was one of two papers from the group that earned Best Paper honors at this year's Association for Computing Machinery Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. The group offered details on its award-winning technology, arguing that IllumiRoom's innovation isn't only pixel-deep.

"At first glance, this proof-of-concept augmented-reality system appears straightforward: create an immersive experience by integrating an off-the-shelf projector with a Kinect Sensor to extend the field of view (FOV) surrounding the display. It takes a few moments to realize that IllumiRoom is extrapolating from images on the screen: The projections are being rendered in real time in response to on-screen content," wrote the team at Microsoft Research.

Microsoft Research stresses that IllumiRoom is still at the prototype stage. Nonetheless, the company is already envisioning other interactive and multi-screen applications.

"So far, we've made the experience spill out into the room, but in the future, we'd like to make it much more interactive. For example, if a ball falls out of the screen, we'd love to be able to throw the ball back! Plus, we'd like to understand what new cinematic effects are possible when content is split over two connected screens," stated Hrvoje Benko, a researcher in the Natural Interaction Research group at Microsoft.

If history is any guide—and provided that the technology is ever commercialized—the hardware hacking community could take IllumiRoom into new and unexpected directions.

Since its launch, the fast-selling Kinect, a modestly-priced motion-sensing peripheral for the Xbox 360, has become a favorite among technology enthusiasts and developers. Early, unsanctioned projects included inexpensive 3D-scanning platforms and robots that could negotiate their surroundings.

Following intense demand, Microsoft released a Kinect SDK for Windows in June 2011. The company has since been enhancing the device's capabilities with new 3D scanning and modeling capabilities and gesture controls.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...