In my time I've seen some pretty strange ideas at bringing gamers closer to the action, ranging from 3D displays to rumble vests to VR headsets. For a while, however, I've been following Philips' plans in the area with interest. As a concept and a product, amBX presents us such an ambitious, all-encompassing approach to making games come alive that it's hard to tell whether it's genius or madness. Your eyes get ambient lighting to build atmosphere. Your ears get 2.1-surround sound. For touch, how about a vibrating wrist-pad and a pair of fans that blow air in your face? Those in the know tell me that smell is the next amBX target, and how long do you think it will be before those inspired/crazed chaps on the development team come up with something to handle taste?
Those of you who follow our TV reviews will be aware that amBX has a close cousin in Philip's Ambilight – where two to four sides of the TV frame emit a soft, coloured glow that's designed to blend the image in with surroundings and create a more immersive viewing experience. This provides the basis for the simplest form of amBX – the Starter Kit (from £90) – which consists of a pair of satellite speakers with LED-based lamps built in to the top and a control unit with its own 'wall washer'. This is a bank of lights that 'washes' the wall behind your monitor with a multi-coloured ambient glow. To this, the ProGamer kit (from £123) adds a subwoofer, while the Premium kit reviewed here adds a vibrating keyboard wrist pad and two variable-speed fans with a maximum spin rate of 5000RPM. The latter items can be added to the Starter or ProGamer kits for an extra £50 or so, meaning that if you like the sound of amBX you can start off small and then upgrade.
Why would you want to do so? Well, as with ambilight, the lamps are designed to create a soft, atmospheric glow that extends the action on the screen out into the area around your desktop. The lamp technology offers a wide range of colour tones and the different lamps can use entirely different hues, meaning that if you have a gloomy, green-lit dungeon wall on the left and a crackling fire on the right the lamps can graduate from green to a pulsing yellow between the left and right speaker lamps. As is the case with ambilight, this can be a subtle but effective addition – and even more when game developers produce titles that control ambilight directly (more on this later). The wrist pad, meanwhile, does exactly what you might expect: rumbling when you fire a gun, or when tank wheels rumble near your position, or vibrating like the clappers when something explodes. The fans, finally, create long or short blasts of air, hurling a hefty breeze in your face when you're in the seat of an open-topped sports car or giving you a quick shot when a grenade goes off near by.