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Project Tuatara preview: Enter 'infinite reality'


While it seems like the industry's penchant for hyperbole has long exhausted the best buzzwords, Microvision has coined a good one: "infinite reality." Not quite virtual reality, and not quite 3D, Microvision's "Project Tuatara" is a novel concept that enables a new kind of gaming.

Gamers are unlikely to be familiar with Microvision, as its breakthrough product is an ultra-portable video projector. However, when you attach said projector technology to a mouse-emulating gyroscopic gun controller, you have something that might pique our interest. At New York Comic Con, Microvision demonstrated how Project Tuatara can be applied to games, by syncing the gun to a wireless HDMI-equipped laptop running Capcom's Lost Planet 2 -- oh, and by inflating a giant black dome to play in.

The key difference between Project Tuatara and other motion-controlled devices is that the controller is also the screen. By combining the location data of the gun with the attached projector, you literally look where you aim. By moving the gun to the left, the projected image moves left, and so does your in-game character. Essentially, it's as if you're virtually in the game you're playing, with total freedom to look up, down, left, right -- all around. Within the dark inflatable dome, you have total freedom to aim wherever you want, without causing any interference to the projected image, your faux virtual environment.

While an intriguing mechanic, it's hard to imagine this kind of novelty gaming outside of a science museum or an arcade. Obviously, there's the question of price: A Pico Projector currently costs about $500, sans any gun controller component. And what about the practicality of such gameplay? How many people will inflate a dome in their homes to recreate the ideal conditions for this kind of gaming? "We're in the concept phase," Michael Fritts, VP of global sales, admitted after the demonstration. "We've only touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of gamers and game development."

The technology driving the experience is certainly impressive, especially when you consider that the high quality image is coming from a tiny projector. One of the key reasons Fritts believes this tech will eventually become a hit with gamers is its "infinite focus," made possible by the laser system powering it. This is why, no matter how quickly you move, or how far or close you move to a wall, the image remains in focus.

"I don't think cost will be a big hold-back." - Michael Fritts, Microvision

But what about software support? Obviously, consumers aren't going to pick up a Project Tuatara device without it supporting a decent quantity of quality gamaes. "We're already supported by legacy games," Fritts said, pointing out that aiming with the gun can simulate movement mapped to a mouse and that the controller supports customizable buttons.

Still, while I was impressed by the demonstration, I couldn't get over the impracticality of the setup and the potential cost. Project Tuatara is exactly that for now -- a project. But Fritts sees a huge world of potential, as the technology improves and if the cost reaches a mainstream tipping point. "Think about where LCD screens started and where they're at today. There's obviously a cost curve that goes down as the adoption rate goes up [...] I don't think cost will be a big hold-back. We'll be really refining that experience."

As-is today, the Project Tuatara technology would only appeal to the most hardcore power user, but it's clear that Microvision has bigger ambitions, and perhaps the patience to fulfill them. "The world of gaming on mobile phones has been exploding. Now, put a Pico Projector on that," Fritts teased. "There's a whole other world there that can be explored."

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