It's always interesting to take a look back to see how tech companies envisioned how the future would look in, say, 10 years' time. An example of that kind of forward-thinking was first revealed in January 2013 at the annual CES trade show. Microsoft announced a new idea for home gaming that it called IllumiRoom.
The concept was, on the surface, a fairly simple one to understand. IllumiRoom combined an Xbox game console and a projector with the Kinect motion-sensing camera. Instead of sensing and scanning a person, however, the Kinect camera would actually turn around and scan the room.
The Kinect would be connected to the projector which would then connect to the Xbox console. The projector would then generate moving images outside the standard television, but would also take into account the environment surrounding the TV. The result was that gamers could see the main action on their TV, but also see images outside the television, like outlines of the map, explosions that occur outside the TV's field of view, and more.
At the time this was cutting-edge technology. In a follow-up article that I wrote in April 2013, I stated some of the ways IllumiRoom could be used:
IllumiRoom features a number of possible illusions, including highlighting the edges of a room, radial wobble that simulates in-game interactions, snow illusions to expand background effects into the room, and various augmented reality situations including having objects fall out of the TV and into the surrounds.
However, the IllumiRoom concept never got beyond the research stage, at least at Microsoft. It's actually easy to learn why. At the time, most flat-screen TVs that were used in living rooms were much smaller than they are today. Indeed, a report from the research firm Statistica states that in 2013, the average size of an LCD TV in the US was 39 inches. That's now considered to be small to middle-sized for a TV in the home in 2023. Indeed, more and more PC game monitors are as large or larger now. The same firm says that the average TV size is now over 50 inches.
In addition, technology leaps like going from HD to 4K, (and in some cases 8K), along with more advanced displays like OLED and Mini-LED, the use of higher refresh rates, and more have made televisions far more advanced to give gamers a much more immersive experience. Consumers can go even higher if they buy a short-throw projector and screen that can give living rooms up to 150 inches for gaming, at prices that are becoming more affordable all the time.
In short, IllumiRoom was a solution to the problem of small gaming TVs that ultimately was made moot by bigger, better, and cheaper TVs, and that trend is likely to continue for some time.
However, the technology used to power IllumiRoom didn't quite disappear. In 2017, the lead researcher for the project, Brett Jones, left Microsoft and co-founded a company called Lightform. Like IllumiRoom, Lightform created devices that map out the outside world, and then project animation and effects onto those environments. Unlike IllumiRoom which was meant for gaming, Lightform was more of an art and marketing tool for businesses to create cool-looking visual experiences. It was also used as background for music videos and commercials
Unfortunately, the company was hit hard in 2020 by the Covid-19 pandemic, as businesses shut down and their need for something like Lightform was highly curtailed. While the company tried to pivot by creating a new projector for smaller indoor spaces like the home, Lightform ultimately shut down in 2022.
While projector-based video mapping devices like IllumiRoom and Lightform's products have not become mainstream consumer devices, it's possible future projector technology will become better, and more importantly cheaper for that to occur. If that happens, the immersive gaming and home experience could go in directions that we can't currently predict.