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D-Box: movies in motion

D-Box is a new technology that synchronises your theatre seating with the onscreen video and sound to literally make you move with the action.

No, it doesn't involve lame 3D glasses -- this is the real seat-rocking thing. D-Box is a new technology that synchronises your home theatre seating with the onscreen video and sound to literally make you move with the action.

With D-Box, the seating is programmed to move when it enhances the story line. You're not going to vibrate through the whole movie, but it kicks in appropriately so you can feel the thrust of a plane taking off, the bumps and swerves of a car chase or the blast from an explosion.

CNET.com.au took our video crew to Wavetrain Acoustics, the Australian distributor that is introducing D-Box to this country, to show you how this new dimension in "feeling films" works first hand. Watch our clip to see Wavetrain's David Moseley explain the basics while we destroy the second Death Star and escape from scout troopers on speeder bikes during a D-Box viewing of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

D-Box in a nutshell
Firstly, programmers need to encode each movie frame-by-frame with motion information that will drive the actuators embedded in the D-Box seat or platform. The motion tracks are then stored on a control box that serves as the link between your DVD player and the connected seating. As this Motion Controller identifies the movie in your DVD player, it plays the corresponding D-Box motion code to synchronise the action on your screen with the D-Box seating actuators. The motion actuators can be connected to individual chairs or platforms with multiple seats and (depending on whether they are 2-axis or 3-axis) they can tilt you up/down, front/back, left/right and diagonally.

In the U.S., D-Box currently offers over 400 encoded movies, with more being introduced each month. Moseley says that as NTSC and PAL DVDs have different frame rates, D-Box code for Region 4 discs needs to be converted to stay properly in sync -- although he's found that most Region 2 (European) DVDs will work here. At this stage, over 100 movies are ready for the Australian market.

As D-Box code for more titles becomes available, you will be able to upload it onto your Motion Controller for a subscription fee of AU$369 per year or AU$1,200 for a lifetime subscription. A better prospect is that in future, it is expected that most Blu-ray discs, with their higher storage capacity, will come with D-Box code already embedded. There are approximately 80 Blu-ray titles with D-Box included on the US market, but Moseley has not as yet tested the Australian versions to make sure the code is included locally.

Not surprisingly, a D-Box system will not be cheap. Actuators start at AU$3,000 per seat (two 2-axis actuators) and go up to AU$6,800 per seat (four 3-axis actuators) if you buy them in double seat configurations. If you need to purchase a chair as well, Wavetrain Cinema chairs range from AU$1,599 to AU$2,999 each. Actuators for a custom motion platform seating up to four people are AU$34,357, with the cost of the platform itself AU$3,500. Then there's the cost of the Motion Controller -- the stand-alone model is AU$4,999, but if you already have a PC in your home entertainment system, you could get by with a PC3 Motion Controller interface for AU$1,559.