Hands on with Sony's Wonderbook: Not a book at all

The J.K. Rowling's "Book of Spells" aims to bring a magical book to life on the PlayStation 3 via augmented reality, but is it really a "reading experience?"

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LOS ANGELES--Call it a toy, call it an experience, but I'm not sure you should call it a book. The J.K. Rowling-created "Book of Spells," the launch title for Sony's Wonderbook platform announced at E3 2012, was originally touted during the kickoff Sony press conference as being a way to bring reading to life.

I had a chance to check out the Wonderbook at Sony's E3 booth, and I'm not sure reading really entered that much into the equation. It is, however, a fun augmented-reality toy with some beautiful animations.

The Wonderbook is a large bound volume of what amount to coded AR cards, in six different spreads. The book is waterproof, according to Sony rep, and the volume feels clean and well-built. The pages are like those in a children's board book.

Scott Stein

The book, when placed on the floor at the proper distance from a PlayStation Eye camera, mirrors the book on your TV, where it animates into a truly stunning experience: the book pages animate with a hand-drawn look that feels very Harry Potter-like, and occasionally large 3D objects emerge from the book's pages -- a pumpkin, a puppet theater (seen above), or even a large hole burrowing into the book's pages. Picking up the book and turning it around turns the 3D objects on TV; when it works, which it generally did, it was seamless.

This technology isn't new; card-coded AR games have been around on the PlayStation since Eye of Judgement and EyePet. Wonderbook prints the cards into a bound volume, a clever way of organizing the cards. Sony says that future titles will use the same single Wonderbook, so there's nothing else to buy.

Waving a PlayStation Move becomes a magic wand onscreen, and up to 20 spells can be cast across a number of lessons, following instructions and small stories that appear onscreen from the pages in the book. Occasionally, mini-games emerge that feel like standard PlayStation Move fare, with motion-controlled wand gaming to cast spells.

Wonderbook is amusing, even magical at times, but it's more of a toy than a reading experience redefined. That being said, attaching J.K. Rowling to the Wonderbook's first title should ensure it being a popular gift for children this holiday...provided they already own a PlayStation 3.

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