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Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) Wants to Beam You Up to the Holodeck

What if your life were more like a video game? This is a popular question in fiction, particularly in film. The notion of being part of an artificial game-like reality has made cult classics out of movies as diverse as Tron and The Matrix, and was recently skewered by Disney‘s latest animated hit, Wreck-It Ralph. But what if your life really were like a video game? What if you were living in a video game right now?

You might be able to figure that out in a few years if Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has anything to say about it. The software giant, which is now increasingly becoming a hardware giant, unveiled an Xbox-compatible technology it’s dubbed IllumiRoom at the Consumer Electronics Show, which promises to bring games into your living room… by projecting them across your entire living room. This was called “LiveWall” in early Electronic Entertainment Expo rumors, but this is the first time we’ve seen a real demonstration of the system in action. Here’s the proof-of-concept video Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) demonstrated during the Samsung keynote, which Microsoft claims is all live, with no post-production:

Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)A report on The Verge ties Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) to Samsung by way of the latter’s manufacturing capacity for pico projectors, which would provide the necessary image fidelity to recreate the scene you see. This isn’t Microsoft’s first foray into projected displays — I covered a Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) research project on projected interfaces called OmniTouch over a year ago — but it may be the most sophisticated effort to move computing (and gaming) beyond the screen yet attempted.

Sony (NYSE:SNE) has its own augmented-reality plans and has even created videos to show off its vision, but they were designed as viral ads rather than real proof-of-concept tech demos. Microsoft’s tech is closer to the living room than anyone else’s, and that could be the edge that gives the next Xbox an insurmountable lead in the console wars. But what if that’s just the beginning?

Step into the holodeck
The first thing that comes to most peoples’ minds with these videos is the Star Trek holodeck, a reliable plot crutch that filled many lazy episodes with musings on the nature of simulated reality. We’re clearly not there yet, but IllumiRoom is just the first 21st-century step into a world of technology purportedly hundreds of years more advanced than ours.

When games become truly immersive, what’s the appeal of a tiny timewaster on a handheld screen? When movies can be projected all around you — this is one of the fanciful promises of Sony’s videos — what’s point of RealD (NYSE:RLD) 3-D glasses or IMAX (NYSE:IMAX) screens? The major limitation to this projection technology against those two established immersion purveyors is a lower level of image fidelity, and there’s no reason to expect this to remain a problem for very long. Consider that the Kinect itself wasn’t even released until the tail end of 2010, and it’s already found use in ways most people would have never considered several years ago.

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