Photorealistic graphics, 3D physics and virtual reality are all playing roles in making video games more realistic than ever before, but one thing remains hard to achieve: the sensation of physically feeling what’s happening in a video game.
Sure, game controllers with vibration feedback offer some degree of feeling in video games, but the rumbles on your hands hardly count as being immersive or life-like.
Immerz’s $150 Kor-FX 4DFX gaming vest promises to provide tactile feedback, like the ability to feel onscreen gunfire and explosions, on your chest by transforming audio into vibrations, but does it really make gaming more immersive or is it like 3D — cool, but ultimately a total gimmick?
Every time I slip the Kor-Fx gaming vest on, I look and feel like I’m preparing to defuse a bomb. Even in my own apartment, I’m embarrassingly aware that I look ridiculous while sitting on the couch with it on.
The vest comes with three things: a wireless dongle box (the company’s name for the receiver box, not mine), a double-sided auxiliary cable and a Micro USB cable.
Even though the Kor-Fx is plug-and-play — there isn’t any software to install or tweak — it wasn’t immediately obvious how to get it up and running; there is no instruction manual or setup guide of any kind included in the box. Instead, the box directs you to visit the company’s website for instructional videos and demos on how to connect it to a computer or game console.
But when I hopped online to get some help setting it up, I was greeted with these 7 to 9 minute-long videos that ramble way too long and don’t get to the point quick enough.
When I finally did get all the wires connected to their right ports, I discovered I needed batteries — four AA batteries for the vest and four more AA batteries for the dongle box. You can plug the dongle box into a USB power source, but your headphone wires will almost definitely not be long enough to work with it.
The vest is fairly comfortable — if not a little bulky on the front — to wear, but it’s not the easiest to put on. Every single time I put the vest on, the snap fasteners on the back popped open. I’m not sure why Immerz didn’t use buckle clips or velcro straps, like the ones on the front. But once you get the vest on, the fasteners don’t come loose.
On the front of the vest are five buttons: a power button, a “binding” (a.k.a. pairing) button, mode button and two buttons for increasing and decreasing the intensity of the vibrations.
Immerz says there’s an eight-hour breaking in period before you figure out the vibrations and mode settings that are right for you. There are three filter modes on the Kor-Fx: one for low frequency (think bass), mid-range frequencies and one for mid to high range frequencies. Figuring out which mode works well with each game is entirely guesswork; most of the time I left it on the low frequency mode and didn’t bother fiddling any further.
When all is said and done, the haptic feedback felt weak to me. Gunfire in first-person shooter games like Call of Duty didn’t have much intensity to them even with the vibrations set to the highest level. I’ve never been shot at in real life, so I can’t say I know what it feels like when someone is raining bullets onto my chest, but I have a hunch it doesn’t feel like light buzzes. I was expecting stronger haptic feedback — something with more kick to it.
These arrow buttons control the vibration intensity. Image: Mashable, Lili Sams
The company claims the Kor-Fx vest will give you an edge over your competition — it says so right on the box! — but I doubt it really will.
It’s true that you can feel the vibrations of, say, an enemy’s footsteps before they even show up on your TV screen, but I wouldn’t say that’s any kind of competitive advantage.
The Kor-Fx is able to convert stereo audio into left and right vibrations and translate that into vibrations on the vest accordingly, but it’s really no better than if you had a nice surround sound audio system, which would tell your ears the same.
Haptics is overrated
Although the Kor-Fx is designed first and foremost for gaming, it also works with movies, TV shows and music — any audio, actually.
So I decided to put it to the test. I popped in my The Dark Knight Rises Blu-ray into my PlayStation 4 and waited for Hans Zimmer’s bass-heavy scores to bring it. The thuds and light vibrations on my chest felt just as lacking as with games; cranking up the volume on my surround sound audio system until the walls rattled felt more immersive, to be honest.
And putting the vest on to listen to music is an even dumber proposition, especially when you’re at home alone. I figured the vest would be great with Skrillex, but I was wrong; I couldn’t even wear it for more than 30 seconds. And forget about laying down on a couch or bed while wearing this thing — it’s as absurd as it sounds.
Image: Mashable, Lili Sams
Just as developers can’t help but push video game graphics into the uncanny valley, startups like Immerz will keep developing ways to let gamers feel their gaming.
Haptic feedback for your body sounds great on paper, but it’s likely too niche for anyone to really care for, though.
The Kor-Fx has as much mass appeal as racing wheel/pedal controllers and flight simulator joysticks. That is, only geeks will gush over it until the initial honeymoon is over, after which it’ll be packed into the closet to collect dust.
So no I wouldn’t buy a Kor-Fx. Just as I don’t need 3D stuff leaping off the screen at me or silly Kinect motion controls, I don’t need to feel vibrations on my chest to feel immersed in my games. I’ve got a lovely full HDTV and a 5.1 surround sound system that give me the best picture and sound for all my gaming needs.
Put the $150 you would have spent on the Kor-Fx towards a better TV, or sound system, or buy a couple of games instead. Realistic haptic feedback for gaming is so overrated.
Multiple frequency settings • Has potential for VR
Weak vibration feedback • Snap fasteners always pop off • Requires too many AA batteries • So ridiculous to wear alone at home
The Bottom Line
The Kor-Fx lets you feel your games through vibrations on your chest, but like 3D’s niche appeal, it’s a total gimmick.
Source: Mashable Tech Physically feeling video game damage on your chest isn’t as cool as it sounds | Image: Lili Sams/Mashable