A little Voodoo: What’s cooking in HP’s gaming labs

Posted by Rob Enderle, Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

Remember HP’s acquisition of boutique PC builder Voodoo? We haven’t heard much of HP’s gaming efforts since the announcement of the merger in September of last year. Rob Enderle got a look at HP’s gaming labs and he returned with some intriguing ideas: Virtual worlds merging into reality, coffee tables that become gaming surfaces and high-end racing simulators on surround screens. Here is his report.

Evidently, the Voodoo folks have been busy.  They were let into the HP labs and a bunch of guys who were used to buying off-the-shelf were given access to some of the most advanced technology for imaging, cooling, controls, and sensors that exist on the planet.  HP labs may be many things but an “off-the-shelf” organization it isn’t.
   
The result was like giving a blind man with imagination sight, or what would happen if you gave a bunch of kids with a love of candy a free pass to a candy store: They went a little crazy.  The result, however, could be amazing.

Looking through HP’s eyes at the future of gaming

What they showed us went far beyond what I have seen from any other PC vendor.  Only Microsoft has gone as far to imagine what a future world might have but they can’t actually build it because, outside of the Xbox, they don’t do hardware and the console market has hard limits with regard to cost. But PC a gaming solution can break the price limits of a console and HP demonstrated how that could be done.

 

 
For a moment imagine what you would do if you had the advanced imaging capability that HP has in their cameras, printers, and displays.  

What if you could do what they have done with high definition collaboration and Halo, and apply it to virtual worlds and gaming?
What if you could take the advances they have made in cooling highly dense blade servers and applied similar technology to cooling over clocked CPUs and GPUs?
What if you could take the advances they have made with micro sensors and used them to bridge the real world and the virtual world?
And what if you took the advances they have made with user interfaces used for specialized industrial equipment and used the technology to create unique and power powerful game controllers?

We are only tapping in to the very top of the “what if” category, because HP has a massive R&D organization and no such organization has ever been mined for this particular use before suggesting we have no real clue what is likely to be the result.  

What HP demonstrated

What HP Demonstrated captured my imagination with regard to what is possible and, if others who have similar resources, go down this same path we could move the gaming market decades in months and the speed of advancement could easily eclipse anything we have seen in the Internet space even in it heyday.   

One prototype took a hand held computer and transformed it into a window into another dimension, parallel world, a gaming dimension - where the real world could be viewed through the window as if it was Middle Earth, another Planet, or anything the developer could imagine.  

You physically walk down the street in the real world and look though the PC “window” and see where an office building really is a virtual castle. Where there is a Starbucks in the real world, there could be a medieval pub or a Star Wars bar in the virtual world.  Real structures are overlaid with virtual ones and by looking through the computer window and physically moving in the real world you move through the parallel virtual one. Other people playing the game can be seen in the window as they would in a game as do all their powers and weapons.   Battles occur at distance or within close combat range (and I’ll bet it will be hard not to physically strike your opponent in some cases).  Think of World of Warcraft events where everyone is physically interacting as well as virtually.  

Another demo took a large high resolution touch screen and built it into a coffee table.   This table could be a passive aquarium or a window to the stars or to a virtual hell.   It could become a gaming surface for chess, or cards, or pool, or air hockey.  Think of strategy games on such a table, think of being able to share and edit pictures on such a table, think of using such a table to scare the crap out of guests.

Another prototype used a bank of nine digital projectors to create a projected image that would be bright enough to display it in full daylight exposure and at a massive size.  The advantage is that such a solution is very inexpensive when compared against industrial projectors and could be easily set up for LAN parties and – in more affordable solutions – in homes.
 
Another prototype used two projectors to create a panoramic surround screen for racing or traditional gaming (RPGs, FPS, MMOGS) allowing for a more immersive experience. HP showcased the driving game with a prototype virtual car with motion actuators at three points, allowing for the creation of inertial effects and road obstacles (like pot holes) to be felt physically.  While far from inexpensive, this technology would produce a high enough resolution to rival the experience in high end racing or flying simulators.  

Finally, they pointed out that most of this was the old stuff; the new stuff was kept under wraps until they can release some of it later in the year.   

Trying to “iPod” gaming

What Apple did with the iPod was take a significant risk and they released a product into the market that was years ahead of anything that was offered at the time.  Had they been wrong, and many thought they were, it would have been a disaster.   But they weren’t wrong and the dominant players in that time are all now subservient to Apple.

HP is trying to use a similar strategy in gaming.  They are using their vast R&D resources to guess where the gaming industry will likely be in five to ten years and shooting for solutions in under three.  If they guess right, the PC gaming could be changing quickly. If they guess wrong, the effort will be remembered regardless.   

The PC market has been rather dull of late and even Apple hasn’t really done anything amazing here since the Titanium notebook and the previous generation iMac. Gaming should be amazing; my personal hope is that it will be amazing and that what we can’t imagine will be a reality in a few short years. The entire PC market needed a little Voodoo; it is fascinating that HP seems to have gotten it first.