That pounding in your chest when the action gets really intense in a video game or movie takes on a new dimension with the KOR-FX 4DFX, an adjustable and lightweight vest that translates audio into subtle vibrations that are meant to help you feel where explosions occur and gunshots comes from – or simply to better enjoy your favorite music.
The KOR-FX the brainchild of Iranian-American physicist Shahriar Afshar, best known for a controversial experiment that challenged our understanding of quantum mechanics. Afshar reportedly got the idea for the vest from noisy college students playing video games in the room adjacent to where he stayed the night of a summertime lecture.
Afshar founded a company called Immerz five years ago to develop his concept into a real product, and it will finally be available to order sometime around Q2 this year – almost four years after its first showing at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2010. While the company has certainly taken the time to improve things on the software and processing end, the KOR-FX's main cause for delay was a need to fit well with a range of different body types and movements – an ergonomic consideration not well accounted for in the original alien-looking headphones-for-your-chest design. "It took hundreds of hours to come up with the design of the vest for our specific use," says Immerz CEO Seth Fandetti.
An early development shot showcases the considerable time and effort put into researching, prototyping, and designing the KOR-FX. (Image: Immerz/Shariar S. Afshar)
The new iteration also makes use of a wireless dongle to untether you from your PC or console, which may help future-proof the KOR-FX against emerging virtual reality technologies. It also has on-chest buttons and dials that let you adjust haptic separation – for pinpointing the source of sounds and depth of field. Fandetti describes this as a measure of "how far afield from the user the feedback can originate."
Fandetti stresses the immersive qualities of playing games with the vest, especially after you’ve fine-tuned the settings to fit your personal preferences. "You forget you even have the vest on as you sink into the experience," he says. "Your body is essentially transformed into an instrument and your brain translates the haptic effects in sync with the content."
Explosions reverberate through your ribcage while gunfire from behind to your left causes vibration primarily on the back of your left shoulder. Immerz claims to have crafted a series of special algorithms that process and convert audio output from a game, movie, or piece of music – with all of the unwanted components of the signal discarded – into precise haptic effects. Transducers within the vest then deliver these vibrations to specific areas of the chest, and your brain interprets this as you being present in the virtual world.
It plays off a quirk of the human mind. "On a subconscious level," Fandetti explains, "the brain monitors vibrations in your chest cavity constantly [to assure] yourself that everything is OK and 'I am still here.' If you cross your hands on your chest and speak or laugh, you can feel these vibrations." The challenge has been to derive the right effects to trick this brain monitoring system into feeling that you're right there in the game, caught within the action you see on screen, and it looks like we'll only have to wait another few months to see if it's as great as it sounds.
Immerz is marketing the KOR-FX as an immersive device for fans of first-person shooters and driving/racing games, which would place it in direct competition to the 3rd Space FPS Gaming Vest we reported on in 2010, but we can expect to see more creative uses emerging following the release of a developer kit that will hopefully see the light of day shortly after the product launch and initial batch of community feedback.
Neither price nor release date have been locked down yet, but Fandetti says both are coming soon (the KOR-FX website FAQ slates an announcement for June this year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles). A second, stripped-down and wired version of the vest is also planned, with the focus there shifted from hardcore gaming to mobile uses like listening to music or watching videos on a smartphone or tablet.
Product page: KOR-FX