AMD’s Surround House imagines the future and trumps the now obsolete home theater

Posted by Rob Enderle

One of the more interesting presentations at CES 2014 was AMD’s Surround House 2.   This was a continuation of last year’s project which put viewers in a room with flat panel windows in the midst of a kidnapping gone wrong.  

This year it was Monster’s in the Orchestra and while I’d likely choreographed something closer to the movie Alien, their Monsters Inc. like program was undoubtedly more kid friendly. 

I think these efforts are starting to point the way to the next big thing in home entertainment. This would effectively replace the in-home-theater with something that might be used and enjoyed more often, such as the in-home virtual vacation room. Let me explain.  

AMD’s Surround House

The Surround House was a room with a dome roof where the content was displayed using 6 high end projectors with overlapping images. Behind the screen were 32 speakers and on the floor were 4 subwoofers that synchronized audio with the images on a screen.  This was driven by a workstation running AMD’s professional graphics card and latest APU. Interestingly, the workstation wasn’t sweating all that hard to create one of the most powerful demonstrations ever seen at CES - even if the HD projectors were limited to 30 frames a second.

The Experience

In the center was a real person who appeared to be conducting the orchestra of monsters surrounding the audience. A Kinect sensor was placed over the conductor to capture his movements. The conductor appeared to be directing (both sound and video) an orchestra of monsters which interacted with him. Sound moves with and originates from the rendered characters around the room and they feel more alive as time goes on. This illustrated how you could wrap a room with a dynamic rendered image and create a unique experience for however many people the room can hold. During most of CES there was a line to get into this presentation because it was so popular.  

Head Mounted Display Variant

The same technology that created the Surround House 2 applied to a high end head mounted display like Oculus Rift and the multi-direction treadmill could do amazing things for gaming and virtual exploration. For example, you could walk through jungles, hike over Martian landscapes and even play in a monster band without the complexity of the projectors or needing a massive sound system. However, I think the more impressive opportunity is a virtual vacation room. 

Wrapping Up:  The Virtual Vacation Room

Home theaters were put into houses to create that “oh wow” feeling when neighbors or friends came over. After being installed most aren’t used that much because, well, we have big HD TVs in more convenient places in homes now. But what about a room that could take you instantly to an island in the Caribbean, or a mountain top on the Alps with the sounds and views wrapping around you? 

If you’ve ever been to the old Disney 360 degree screen attraction you know this kind of immersion that gives someone the feeling they are moving even if they are aren’t. Now imagine having your treadmill, stationary bicycle or even hammock in such a room, or bringing your light rifle in and booting up a game. Except this one that required you to physically move, kind of like Xbox Kinect, albeit with surround screens and sound.  

I expect the room would be used far more often and, done right, far more impressive than a home theater and that those little min-vacations you take could prove those moment of relaxation and help your motivation to exercise even on snow days.   

So I think we are seeing the beginning of an idea, kind of a Holodeck concept that will work this decade, and I expect those who figure this out will have something both amazing and highly enviable kind of like the first home theaters were. Just imagine…