Canadian company's motion-synched chairs wow CES attendees

A Montreal-based company has received kudos and attention at this week's Consumer Electronics Show. The company has developed chairs which add the sensation of movement to movies by synchronizing a motorized chair to action in a film.

By Peter Nowak,

LAS VEGAS — As the crowds dwindled on the last day of the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, one small Canadian company continued to pack them in — Montreal-based D-Box Technologies.

A CES visitor tries out the new motion-synched video game and movie chair from Montreal-based D-Box Technologies. ((Peter Nowak/CBC News))

Attendees flocked to the company's booth to see its motion-code technology at work, which adds the sensation of movement to movies by synchronizing a motorized chair to the action in the film. The result — where the chair rumbles and bumps in time with what is happening on the screen — is more like a roller-coaster ride than a movie.

"We like to say we put the motion into motion pictures," president and chief executive officer Claude McMaster said in an interview.

Aside from being a popular choice of attendees, D-Box was also a critical success at CES, where it unveiled its newest chairs, the GP Pro 200 chair series. The two new chairs, which expand the company's technology to video games, nabbed a Design and Engineering Showcase Honour.

D-Box also announced at the show it was adding two upcoming Blu-ray DVD releases in March from 20th Century Fox, Independence Day and I, Robot, to its catalogue of more than 700 films.

D-Box started in the mid-1990s as a maker of speakers, but on a lark began experimenting with adding motion to movies. By the end of the decade, the company had decided to ditch the speaker business and concentrate exclusively on motion.

That effort resulted in the motion-synched chairs, which customers can purchase to watch movies in their homes.

Technicians manually write the code while watching a movie and painstakingly synchronize the chair's movements to the on-screen action. A single movie can take up to 300 hours to synchronize.

Until last fall, technicians would have to wait until a film was released on DVD to begin their coding and would then have a motion-ready version available within two to three weeks. Customers who had purchased chairs through custom dealers would then download the code through their internet subscription, thus adding motion capability to their DVD films.

In October, D-Box had its big breakthrough when it announced a content deal with Fox that embedded its code right onto discs. Fox said it would supply D-Box with its movies before they were released on DVD, which allowed the company to pre-code films and provide customers with motion-enabled versions as soon as they hit stores.

The company announced similar deals, which allow customers to do away with the internet downloading of code and select the motion option right from the DVD menu, with Lion's Gate and Disney in November and December, respectively.

Next big wave

McMaster said the big studio endorsement — which places the D-Box logo on the back of every motion-enabled DVD — has the company poised to lead the next big wave of entertainment.

"Churchill said knowledge is power, but content is power in the entertainment business," he said. "By being the first player in this industry, we should be far ahead of the others who come in."

The market for motion-enabled movies is fairly small now because of the price of the chairs, with only several thousand sold so far. The high-end SRI series leather recliner sells for about $10,000, while a platform-only version that can be fitted to any lounge seat goes for $3,500.

But the company, which went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange's Venture Exchange in 2000, has its sights set on movie theatres, where it could install chairs in a special VIP section. The theatre could charge a few dollars extra on the ticket price and use the motion-enabled chairs as a way to lure customers back with an experience they can't recreate in their own living room.

"They need to have something at least as good as what they have at home," McMaster said.