When ‘Tactile Stimulation Devices’
are Right for a Project
Anthony Grimani (email@example.com) is
president of Performance Media Industries,
with offices in Novato and San Anselmo,
As an electronic systems contractor, you
should always be on the look out for ways
to enhance your business and make your
services more attractive to clients. With
prices falling for traditional items like
projectors and screens, you have to find
new avenues for revenue as well.
One way you can do this is to extend
the home entertainment experience into
the tactile realm. People just love to feel
the bass impact of a movie or the slam of
a big concert PA rig.
Traditionally, bass impact is provided
by big subwoofers and lots of them, and
this is still the best way to do it. However,
there are circumstances when that
approach doesn’t work. The hardware
may not fit in the room; some people
don’t listen loud enough for subwoofers
to do their thing; or, perhaps there are
whiny neighbors or someone else in the house who would be bothered
by that much bass. Then there are rooms where it’s not physically possible.
Standing waves can cancel out bass energy, and floors constructed
of concrete don’t vibrate regardless of how much “subwoofing” power
you employ. Fortunately, there is a solution out there: electro-mechanical
tactile stimulation devices.
Tactile stimulation devices fall into two broad categories, with slight variations.
The most common is what I call low-frequency tactile enhancers. These
devices essentially assist the sound system with the playback of the bottom frequencies
from 15Hz to 60Hz. They can supply the feedback of low-frequency
energy that is not being produced by the subwoofers for whatever reason.
Tactile enhancers generally work by reading the low-frequency content
in the soundtrack and translating it into physical energy that activates
shakers or motion actuators for an individual chair, a specially made floor,
or a platform. They can be adjusted to respond to only the very lowest frequencies
in a soundtrack or opened up to much higher frequencies in the
neighborhood of 500 Hz, by use of an adjustable low-pass filter on the amplifier
powering them. Then, of course, is the all-important level control.
A company called Crowson has probably taken this concept the furthest.
Rather than using simple transducers, they go for linear actuators.
They can also look at left-right stereo content and provide different signals
to motion actuators placed under the left and right legs of the seating.
Currently, the only
company offering a motion
simulation system is D-BOX
Technologies. Their motion
actuators can be built into
individual seats, or installed
on platforms for entire rows.
Some of the other common names you’ll find in the world of low-frequency
tactile enhancers are Aura Bass Shakers, Guitammer ButtKickers, Clark Synthesis, and Earthquake Audio tactile transducers. These vary in
terms of prices and quality, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding ones
to match any budget.
The second category uses motion actuators instead of shakers and actually
moves the seating in sync with the action on screen. A special motion code
track is created by a programmer for the movie and then is kept synchronized
by reading the digital audio bits of the soundtrack. This type of system carries
the advantage of being able to simulate full-on motion in addition to vibration.
Currently, the only company offering a “motion simulation system” is
D-BOX Technologies. Its motion actuators can be built into individual
seats, or installed on platforms for entire rows. The system can also be run
in audio-only mode, which works just like other tactile systems. While this
system does have the limitation of requiring code to be written for every
program, it carries the advantage of the motion simulation or vibration being
created and custom-tailored by the filmmakers to the program material.
D-BOX systems are very sophisticated and specialized, which makes
them an ideal item for ESCs to feature. It’s highly unlikely that an individual
consumer, or even a big-box retailer, would attempt to install a system like
this on its own. D-BOX can become extremely annoying when overused. An
additional advantage the custom integrator brings to the table is being able to
configure all of these systems to a reasonable level that enhances the experience
rather than overwhelming it.
Regardless of the reputation it
gained in the past, tactile simulation
is now part of filmmakers’ creative
palette. D-BOX motion data is actually
now being created from the
start for specific movies, and real
movie theaters are employing these
systems to reproduce it. It can no
longer be argued that tactile and
motion simulation is just a gimmick.
Chase Walton contributed to this