AblePlanet preps a gaming headset with smart haptics, we preview the tech inside (hands-on)

Headsets with vibrating haptics aren't exactly novel -- we've already seen such offerings from Skullcandy as well as Sony. Now AblePlanet is coming out with something similar, but the underlying technology makes it considerably smarter than anything currently on the market. The company recently announced it's pairing up with haptics firm ViviTouch to make a gaming headset that offers different-feeling vibrations depending on what kind of music you're listening to, or what's happening in the game. The as-yet-unnamed headset will go on sale within the next six to nine months, according to AblePlanet, with pricing to be announced at a later date.

Additionally, the companies plan to team up on other projects, including ear canal devices for field workers (firefighters, etc.) and even products for the hearing impaired. Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, we want to give you a quick preview of the headset, which we tested for a few minutes here at CES. Unfortunately, the set we tested today was merely a retrofitted NC1000CH plugged into a control box. Still, it gave us a good sense of what we can expect when the final product drops later this year. Meet us after the break to learn more.

Before we dive into the gaming demos, it might help to take a step back and explain how ViviTouch's technology works. In brief, the secret is its electroactive polymer (EAP for short) -- basically, a thin sheet comprised of two electrode layers with a dielectric elastomer film sandwiched in between. When a voltage is applied, the two attracting electrodes compress the entire sheet. This slim, low-powered actuator module can be placed underneath an inertial mass (usually a battery) on a tray, which in turns amplifies the haptic feedback produced by the host device's audio signal. (In the past, that signal has been 50Hz to 300Hz -- i.e., the easily audible bass frequencies.) In the case of these forthcoming headphones, the actuators live inside the earcups.

In our brief test, we listened to some bass-heavy hip hop ("Bass Down Low," appropriately enough) along with some milder classic rock. As you might expect, we enjoyed the technology more in that first scenario: you might appreciate some haptic accents when listening to Kanye West, but we can see where it would be a distraction if you were rocking some softer James Taylor and got a pulse to the ear every time someone hit a low note on the piano. Like we said when we got hands-on with Skullcandy's haptic headset, a whole album might be a bit much, but using this for gaming seems like a sweet proposition.

Fortunately, at least -- and this is what the headphones are all about -- the vibrations are subtler when the music isn't as thumping. Shorter and less intense, we mean. So in theory, then, the techonology won't ever drown out whatever it is your'e listening to. Additionally, you'll be able to disable the vibrations in the final product, as well as adjust the strength of the haptic feedback. Another thing: volume isn't tied to the vibration strength, so don't be shy about cranking it up.

As for gaming, we also got the chance to try out a controller with the same haptic technology inside. It's here in particular that you can really feel the range of haptic feedback. In a round of Half-Life 2, wading into water felt different from shooting a handgun, which felt different from shooting a bullet against a metal barrel. Different weapons even had a different feel: as in real life, shooting a handgun isn't the same experience as firing a machine gun. It's the difference between some low-grade, continuous vibrations and a bunch of short, isolated bursts. Here, somehow, it felt immersive, but not distracting in the way it sometimes felt when we listened to music. Then again, maybe you should let us wear one for three hours and then ask us how we like it. Something to revisit in a full review, we say.

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Able Planet and Bayer Materialscience to explore next greration audio, communication and hearing health devices

The companies will work to fuse Able Planet's proprietary audio and communications technologies
with Bayer's ViviTouch® electroactive polymer technology to create a new standard for sound quality, clarity and speech intelligibility

(December 27, 2012) – Able Planet Incorporated and Bayer MaterialScience today announced that they will explore the design, manufacture and distribution of next-generation audio, communication and hearing health devices that fuse Able Planet's award-winning proprietary technologies with Bayer's ViviTouch® electroactive polymer (EAP) technology. The resulting product portfolio is expected to set new standards for sound quality, clarity and speech intelligibility.
The two companies aim to develop products that recreate The Live Sound Experience™. The co-developments will focus on enhancing performance of existing consumer electronics and hearing health devices.

The ideal performance for high-end audio is the accurate reproduction of The Live Sound Experience™. Current audio technologies struggle to replicate this experience, because fuller sounds can mask high tones making speech and music sound muddled. LINX AUDIO®, winner of Best in Category at the International Consumer Electronics Show, provides full rich bass sounds, clear high tones and intelligible speech that enable you to Hear the Difference®. ViviTouch® electroactive polymer technology enhances the perception of loudness, while reinforcing clarity with a motion technology that enables conduction of sound to the auditory system through controlled contact with skin and bone. The technology comprises an extremely thin polymer film upon which electrodes are printed. This film is form-fitted onto an audio device and creates wide area surface contact with the skin, or the inside of the ear canal. A proprietary process allows the film to move
nimbly when applied with current, resulting in a highly efficient transmission of the audio signal coherent with sound generated from the device driver. Combining these methods of sound delivery is expected to result in unparalleled sound quality and speech intelligibility.

"Able Planet has a history of award winning products and technologies based on proprietary Hear the Difference® technologies," said Kevin Semcken, CEO Able Planet. "Fusing ViviTouch electroactive polymer technology with these products is expected to enable the listener to Feel the Difference™ enhancing the user experience, sound quality and clarity."
Initial product developments will commence concurrently on gaming and home theater headphones, as well as, communication and hearing health devices where the combination of proprietary technologies is anticipated to create a new standard of performance in this growing market.

"The pairing of Bayer and Able Planet technologies is expected to create the next generation of audio and communication products in some of the world's most rapidly growing consumer electronics markets." said Dirk Schapeler, CEO of Artificial Muscle, Inc. a Bayer MaterialScience Company and maker of the ViviTouch® electroactive polymer technology.