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It Came From Kentia Hall

The next-generation consoles may have dominated the E3 2005 hardware news, but there was a whole room full of hardware hidden in the depths of Kentia Hall.


Just one story below the glitz and glamour of South Hall lies Kentia Hall, a collection of meeting rooms and booth spaces for companies that want a presence at E3, but don't have the budget to compete with the Nintendos and Sonys in the main halls. Whereas the large noisy booths of the two main halls house the largest companies with armies of representatives, several of the smaller booths in Kentia Hall are manned by single entrepreneurs that have absolutely no reservations about grabbing anyone wearing a media badge and forcing them to listen to a product pitch.

Judging by the eclectic assortment of products and games we saw in Kentia, the axiom "find a need and fill it" was hard at work leading up to the show. The devices ranged from controllers, low-budget games, exercise equipment, action figures, in-game development services, data protection, and we saw no fewer than six different disc cleaners on display.

As much as we'd like to give every piece of interesting hardware some attention, we had to narrow down the selection to the products that best represent the spirit of Kentia. There is no guarantee that all or any of these products will find their way to US shores, but we have to admit that a few seem interesting. Hide your video cameras and put away those press badges, we're about to enter Kentia Hall.

Wow Wee RoboRaptor

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Building on the success of the RoboSapien, Wow Wee is introducing the RoboRaptor to the market. Featuring audio and visual sensors, programmability, and three separate modes: hunter, cautious and playful, RoboRaptor is marketed as a toy for all ages. RoboRaptor is 32 inches long, and fully bipedal in its movement. The device is programmed to act as a predator and will even "playfully" strike out at your hand if it's placed in its vision during hunter mode.

Total Immersion PCE

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Personal Computing Environments (PCE) produces professional grade seating and computing workstations. The Total Immersion PCE is essentially an ergonomically designed gaming station. We found bright red units in the Mythic booth with two LCDs, full PCs, and trays for the keyboard and mouse. PCE stated that it offers four different colors, and will find any color paint if you order a custom model. The seats reclined and had footrests, headrests, and armrests throughout. The entire setup weighs about 150 pounds, and stands almost six feet tall, six feet long, and three feet wide. Unfortunately, the Total Immersion PCE doesn't come cheap. PCE sells fully loaded models (with Shuttle XPCs) for more than $5,000, and basic models come in at $2,750.

Trimersion VRstar

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The Trimersion VRstar headset is a visual system designed to work with FPS games, creating a more realistic virtual reality-like feel by allowing you to move your head to control the game and look around in the gameplay environment. The headset features stereo sound, and it's compatible with the PC, Xbox, and PS2. The unit fits on any size head through the use of adjustable straps that are attached at the back of the unit. The units at the show used Doom 3 as the demo game, but we found it difficult to align our unit with our in-game orientation. We ended up having to turn our heads at very awkward angles just to make the unit function. The VR display resolution wasn't very high, and the low contrast made the dark corridors difficult to navigate. Even with all the drawbacks, we found that turning our heads to peek around corridors made the gameplay much more realistic. The game managed to startle us quite a few times while wearing the VR unit.

Jakks Air Jet Sprint

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What's better than the ability to have your own inflatable Jet Ski? Try adding a game adapter so that you can use the Jet Ski as a controller. The unit has built-in games, so you don't need to use your own console. The adapter includes six games that seem to run graphics similar to the NES days, ranging from jet skiing to Bejeweled-like entertainment. The unit plugs directly into any VCR or TV. The size of the unit, at approximately 4 feet long and 2 feet high, makes it awkward for a full-sized adult, but it's just the right size for younger players.

Virtual-E VirtualGT

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VirtualGT is a high-end all-in-one gaming device designed to be the ultimate racecar simulator. The self-contained unit has a built in 32-inch monitor complete with racing wheel and seat. Other features include rumble support, a 500W amplifier for sound, and an adjustable dash system. The unit uses the Logitech Momo racing wheel, and it can support a TrackIR head-tracking system for additional control. The controls may be a little over the top with 50-plus buttons on the console, and the demo unit we saw also incorporated a keyboard. The VirtualGT is as much a conversation piece as it is a racing simulator, as not many people have an arcade-sized racing unit sitting in their game room. The unit starts at $15,900.

E-Real RGT:G1 Light Gun

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The E-Real Universal Light Gun can work with any television technology. Normal light guns can have trouble with the new, non-CRT televisions. The unit uses an infrared camera that sits on top of the TV and monitors the gun output. The unit can work with plasma, projection, LCD, and DLP TVs. The guns come in two colors: red and green. The extended barrel is not a detriment to the gameplay, but we quickly got tired of having to reset the gun alignment each time we wanted to shift our standing position. The unit works with the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and a PC version will be coming out in Europe this fall.

ASCS Dream Machine

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The Dream Machine is a gyroscopic-based full-body controller designed to add some exercise to your gaming experience. The unit has a unique adjustable stand, and it uses exercise cables to provide resistance. Using both rotational and tilt/pan control mechanisms, as well as a variety of pedals, the unit can turn a game into a full-body exercise. The demo unit used a racing setup, where you had to twist your body to turn the vehicle. The same setup can be used for flight sims as well. The unit is compatible with the PS2 and Xbox. It also folds up for storage and is designed to be easily movable, though the rather large frame is somewhat bulky, even in the included case. Home and arcade units are currently under development.

Philips Game Elements Freak Controllers

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Philips was at E3 to display three new additions to its unusual line of Freak controllers. Featuring the likenesses of a samurai, ninja, and dragon, these PS2 and Xbox controllers stand out with unusual textures and creative design. These controllers are probably better for show rather than for actual gameplay, as it'll take some time to get used to holding the unique shapes. That said, there's still nothing like them when it comes to console gamepads.

Gamer Graffix

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Probably one of the more affordable hardware additions you can get your hands on is the Gamer Graffix, which will give your console a personalized, if not mass-produced, touch. The company sells high-quality, thematically oriented, removable skins for all current-generation consoles. Most skins cost under $20 and are available at many major retail outlets.

Yobo FC Game Console

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Kentia also had a handful of offerings that had us scratching our heads over the legality of some hardware products. The Yobo FC Game Console is an NES emulator that can play original NES cartridges. Aside from being smaller than a real NES, the Yobo unit also features built-in turbo and slow functions. The unit is barley larger then the cartridges themselves, but we were able to play Duck Hunt without a problem. Yobo highlights the AV output and LED light as major advancements on its unit. Not surprisingly, the manufacturer is still looking for a retail distributor for its game console.

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