The PlayStation 3 is by far the best-selling Blu-ray player, a sign that Sony has once again succeeded in turning a game console into a video-format Trojan horse. Although Blu-ray supporters generally focus on the format’s video and audio quality, a company called D-BOX Technologies has flown completely under the Blu-ray radar, and it’s a company that PS3 owners will definitely want to keep tabs on. D-BOX has existed for years in the DVD realm, but it’s really coming into its own with Blu-ray. And what few PS3 owners know — but what many should realize — is that D-BOX and Blu-ray are helping their next-gen console open new doors for home entertainment that previously only existed in amusement parks.
If you’ve ever been to Disneyland and are familiar with Star Tours, you’re familiar with the general concept behind D-BOX. The creator of the Motion Controller, D-BOX Technologies employs a team of engineers who spend their entire profession hand-coding motion into every frame of most mainstream movies. Because D-BOX has partnerships with Universal, Sony, Disney and 20th Century Fox — and is working on Warner Bros. and Paramount — PS3 and other Blu-ray player owners have access to Star Tours-like fun with most action movies on the market. No longer do you need to be a passive viewer; now you can feel your films like a member of the cast. Yes, D-BOX is bringing the “move” back to “movies.”
Getting D-BOX to work on your PS3 or Blu-ray player is easy, but only once you manage to hook it up. The pieces necessary to “feel” your Blu-ray movies are:
- The Motion Controller, an A/V component-sized piece of hardware that decodes the D-BOX Motion Code and transmits the movements to…
- The Motion Platform, which attaches to the underside of your chair or sofa and houses the Actuators, the pieces of equipment that are responsible for making you move with the movie, and
- The PS3 or Blu-ray player itself, which provides the signal to the Motion Controller
The Motion Controller includes an ASUS Blu-ray drive, but it’s a BD-ROM only, so you won’t be watching any movies in it. Instead, the drive is used to insert movies if they ship with the D-BOX Motion Code included on the disk, thus letting you install the Code on the Controller’s hard drive much like dumping data from any disc-based medium. The back of the Controller has five Ethernet ports, one that lets you connect to a network and download new Motion Code via Live Updates, and five ports that enable you to connect up to five Motion Platforms to a single Controller.
The Motion Platform attaches to the base of your sofa or chair and houses the Actuators, which are piston-like legs that move up, down and side to side to mimic the movement you see on screen. The four Actuators on each Platform can re-create up to 2Gs of acceleration and lift up to 250 pounds each, so by all means, go ahead and order that family-sized pizza. The Platform we’re using to test D-BOX-encoded Blu-ray movies is the SRP-230 (shown above), which is attached securely to the bottom of our recliner with about a one-inch gap on either side. The sides don’t have to be snug, so long as the base is attached tightly with the included screws.
Although there are only three pieces of hardware (including the PS3 or Blu-ray player) required to get the D-BOX up and running, actually getting it to work can be a bit tricky. The instruction manuals do a good job explaining the hardware and assembly, but they don’t clearly explain how the Blu-ray player and A/V components connect to the D-BOX hardware. That’s why we’re here.
The D-BOX Motion Code is transmitted from the PS3 or Blu-ray player directly into the Motion Controller, a transmission that takes place on the same channel as the audio track. With that in mind, you need to run one optical cable from the optical-out port on the back of your PS3 or BD player into the optical-in port on the back of the Motion Controller. From there, you must use another optical cable to connect the optical-out jack on the Controller to the optical-in port of your A/V receiver or TV. The video feed, meanwhile, goes directly from your PS3 or BD player to the receiver or TV, preferably through HDMI (for the best 1080p picture quality). A coaxial audio connection will transmit the D-BOX signal, but if you’ve got the optical cable, it’s better to use that.
Although the video signal never passes through the Motion Controller itself, pausing a movie or skipping between scenes results in a slight stutter while the audio and D-BOX tracks synchronize with the video. This stutter seldom lasts more than a second, but it is noticeable. In the grand scheme of things, this stutter is forgivable; it’s but a minor sacrifice for the experience of literally feeling the action in a blockbuster film.
If you’re using a PS3 as your primary Blu-ray player, it’s vital to make one additional switch in your Cross-Media Bar (XMB) System Settings. This, too, has to do with the audio, and if it’s not made, your D-BOX installation will not work. In the XMB’s Audio/Video Settings, select BD/DVD Settings and ensure the BD/DVD Video Output is set to HDMI Automatic. Once that setting is verified (presuming you’re using HDMI for your video…which you should), click on the line that says BD Audio Output Format (Optical Digital). By default, this line on the PS3 is set to Linear PCM; this must be changed to Bitstream. The D-BOX code cannot be transmitted over Linear PCM, only by Bitstream.
With those settings made, you’re ready to watch D-BOX movies on your PS3. Not all Blu-ray movies are encoded with D-BOX Motion Code, but the best of the best are or will be soon. You can keep track of our D-BOX reviews here. D-BOX updates its network with new Motion Codes every month, and with new partnerships anticipated in 2009, D-BOX could very well help your Blu-ray library literally move you for years to come.
— Jonas Allen