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HP Gets Serious with Gaming

The computer and printer manufacturer unveils a handful of technologies that it hopes will shake up the video-game industry.
April 5, 2007

Last year, when Hewlett-Packard (HP) bought VoodooPC, a manufacturer of high-performance computers used for gaming, it was an indicator that the company was planning to move beyond servers, personal computers, and printers. Now HP has made it official. At a press event on Wednesday, the company unveiled prototype gaming technologies and announced its plan to actively enter the lucrative industry of online, mobile, and PC gaming.

The new gaming technologies have been plucked directly from projects at HP Labs. And four projects that highlighted mobile gaming, touch-screen technologies, and next-generation projection systems were on display.

One project, called mscape, provides a way of playing a virtual game in a physical world. The mscape software is downloaded to handheld gadgets, such as cell phones, PDAs, and mobile gaming devices. The software leverages sensors in the gadgets, from GPS to accelerometers, to determine a player’s location and activity, and then it gives the player instructions. Here’s a video of an mscape trial at the Tower of London, in England.

Mscape is an example of augmented reality. Nokia is working on a similar idea, although not necessarily for gaming. Mscape may soon turn into a product: in May, HP plans to make an announcement regarding the project, says Susie Wee, the director of the mobile- and media-systems lab at HP.

Another HP demo featured an interactive coffee table, called Misto, which has a touch-screen surface. The current challenge that HP researchers encounter with coffee-table game display, says Wee, is designing games and applications that work well when viewed from multiple directions. Misto’s software is, at this time, useful for tasks such as moving around puzzle pieces or sharing photos and videos with someone across the table. Currently, the technology responds only to a single touch at a time, but in the future, says Wee, HP plans to explore multitouch screens and the applications that can be used with them. (See “Touch Screens for Many Fingers.”)

Two new types of projector systems were also demonstrated at the event. One of the systems, called Panoply, uses multiple inexpensive projectors to create video-game scenes on a curved screen. The idea is to immerse the player in the game, says Wee.

While projecting onto curved screens isn’t new, it has been a challenge to do it using cheap, nonspecialized hardware, she says. Panoply relies on video-processing algorithms–developed at HP–to calibrate the projections to match the curve of the screen and to adjust the image in real time to create a seamless picture. In addition to being used for gaming, the technology is being considered for use in HP’s Halo product, a large-scale teleconferencing system that creates a virtual boardroom.

Another projection system, called Pluribus, also relies on multiple inexpensive projectors. This system uses video-processing algorithms to combine images from the projectors to create a superscene that is high-resolution and has a deep color contrast. At the demo, 12 projectors were used to show vivid football and soccer games played on a wall-sized screen. Initially, Pluribus could be used at gaming conferences, but the technology also has the potential to be used in movie theaters as an alternative to expensive digital cinema projectors.

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