Phillips AmbX Dissected


Electrosthetics has taken it upon themselves to open up and explore the insides of a Phillips AmbX system. The unit is supposed to help immerse you in your video games by adding ambient lighting, vibration, and wind. They got the starter kit, which is missing some bits. Interestingly they found that the hardware was not hampered in any way. You could plug in fans and such and, in theory, build the larger kit. There are lots of pics of the various pieces for you to look at. They note that the hardware all seems decent, but it’s the software that really causes issue. On their Vista64 dual core machine, the software was eating up an entire core to do ambient lighting.

22 thoughts on “Phillips AmbX Dissected

  1. No no no.

    Games are dual-core already, it is the third and fourth core that aren’t used fully yet. (or maybe they are, technology moves to fill any space it can.)

    Quad-core is going mainstream, $165 new from Intel, $130 or less from AMD.

    They need to fix this, I can do “ambient lighting” by using a 640×480 projector to clone the main screen and display on the wall behind my screen. I am pretty sure that doesn’t cost anything in terms of processing resources.

  2. im sure you have to buy special games that support all of those features. it would be neat to see if you could replicate the hardware, make it use less resources, and make it cheaper, by using an arduino maybe? it would get commands from the main computer, and then transfer it into voltage for a pagermotor, fan, and others. dont think that is really possible though. doesn’t seem that all those things would use many resouces.

  3. Software stinks…
    Let me guess… Philips bought some junk hardware from a chinese wholesaler, paid 10$ for an undergrad to hack a driver and sell everything with an insane markup.

    What is clueing me ? The whole “hardware was not hampered in any way” not their style… But typical from China Inc.

  4. As far as I can tell the lights just show the average color of the four quarters of the screen.

    I can understand how that could take a fair deal of CPU power, downsizing 1920×1200 in real time on the cpu would be brutal.

    All in all this seems like something easy to replicate though.

  5. i bought the core system of these (just the lights) off woot the other day to spice up my htpc and seriously the software sucks hard. includes tons of control panels and other configuration utilities, after the update online i had some 4-5 programs to control the same thing. not as cool as id hoped and you have to have a good setup (right in front of a flat white wall) to really enjoy it. unfortunately i do not, and unfortunately woot doesn’t do returns. i like the projector idea though, id much rather set something like that up than try and figure this out

  6. No I’m with you on that Matt, the light behind the monitor thing is not something I quite get either, might be nice for shows like the oscars or american idol and such, where there is no story, and no immersion in a fantasy, but for games and movies I don’t get it.
    I do like that the ambi-stuff will give future games an interface to hack your own effects on though.

  7. in terms of playing around with software, there is a free sdk at that people can play around with. make sure you install all the ambx updates and stuff, the old ambx software isn’t all that good but the latest stuff is far more stable and less resource intensive.

  8. gaspard, while I’d normally agree with you, I don’t think that was the case with this. I read somewhere the hardware was developed by a research division within Philips originally.
    Mike: I got mine from sellout.woot too.. they kinda suck honestly, tigerdirect was cheaper as I found out later.
    others: About the drivers and the CPU usage, that experience was with the very first driver revision, I think they have fixed it. It does work with every game in a basic sense, it shows up ‘untested mode’ and I do think it works based on the framebuffer color average. It really gives more immersion, check out some of the ambilight videos on Philips website.

    Anyways, I’m content with the purchase for hack-ability. The first thing I ever made when I got a basic stamp a long time ago was make a color cycling lamp with an 6 pin RGB DIP chip.. coolest thing to look at. :D

    And like I said, if you have windows media center as your HTPC setup (I do with a hauppauge ATSC tuner card), it is just like having an expensive Philips HDTV with it built in! But I’ll have to get another since this one will be all hacked up. I’m soldering things more than watching TV anyways, as I’m sure a lot of us are here. :)

    PS3 support?:

    Things I want to do with this: Library for audrino (might have to forgo the usb interface and 8051 or RE the protocol and make some ‘glue’ with a USB chip) – Interface to live data such as household power usage, stock prices, notifications, hack the module to support more satellites for a whole room, interface something more intense to the rumble outputs, etc. There’s lots to build on here. (Although the fans and rumble only work in certain games which sucks) Ambilight tech seems popular with a few types of people.. there have been quite a few DIY versions made, google around. It’s a neat concept for all kinds of uses, for me its an aesthetically pleasing data display hopefully. I’ll try to update the blog as I do more with it. (just got it yesterday!) Thanks for the post!

  9. Instead of calculating the ambient screen color in software, why didn’t they just make a DVI/VGA dongle that taps the analog RGB lines and runs it through a low-pass filter with a sub-1Hz corner frequency?
    It would make it completely OS-independent and would free up system resources.

  10. @ r_d
    thats a great idea, except they would probably want to use a dvi plug, “better” “ambiant color” lol. make it cost a $1000000000000000000000 too. they wouldn’t want them to deviate from their original product design, also they need to use an intel core i7 or core 2 xeon. both of them are good quad/octa cores.

  11. Well, i’m thinking of purchasing, only problem is it seems there are only a handful of games fully supported, by that i mean they have the full sha-bang nailed. Ambient, rumble, and fanse all coriagraphed (no idea how to spell :P) into a neat package. Most games are ‘loosely’ supported in the fact they do the basic ambient affects, and then have some specific fan and vibration action, some. But are we expecting any more support for games anytime soon, or rather any better support for games soon?

  12. Honestly, the only effect worth it for me is the lights. I demo’d the fans and rumble and it was not impressive at all. Although I am going to try hooking ‘different’ rumble devices to it and trying a supported game. (read here The lights work with anything, anything directx it seems. Even winamp visualization and such.

    If you were to purchase anything, I’d get the cheapest one and add what you desire later. Also there is a model with and without speakers. The speakers are NOT surround. (2.1) I got the one without speakers, since I have real 8 HT ones and a Yamaha receiver. :D I just wanted the lights. Audio aside, you can add whatever you like to the back, all the plugs are there. Say if you buy the cheapo one like me, you can buy the fans and rumbler for it later. Or make your own. I’ll put a pinout up shortly, there is already activity on the ambx forums on the pinout of the RGB satellites.

    Note that it appears you can chain these all together. So you could buy 2 kits and have surround lighting. Although I don’t have eyes in the back of my head.. not exactly the same as sound. If you notice in my blog I took a pic of the software where you configure it.. you can drag the lights where you actually have them positioned. Link It would appear you can have 5 more lights.

    The idea is to totally hack this protocol, kinda like what was done with the trackir. Then we can make diy hardware that improves upon the limitations of the original. (example, i’d like to have 1 wallwasher and 4 sats, or one wallwasher and 4 sats for x+ x- y- y+, like a real ambilight (but that would require major work on how it hooks into the game. I’ll look at the api and post about it.)) If games ditch this, along with 3d mice, shutter glasses, etc.. it won’t be a surprise. But color controllable light is not a gimmick in itself, its been used for ages.. at any concert. Now its at your house. The hardware is an easy starter platform, and if it gains traction in the games industry, that’s a bonus because we’ll have intense lightshows with our 3d games.

    I dig the thought of standing by a burning tank and having my room glow orange. Or if we make our own drivers working fast enough(w/o lag), so that when a weapon is fired an actual *bright* muzzle flash is produced.

  13. good teardown, but i don’t understand all of the hatred towards ambx. the processor problems have already been fixed in an update, and the reason it takes processing power is because it reacts to actual in-game events (being attacked, running, etc). It divides the screen among the ambx lights when nothing else is happening, which works on anything using directx.
    i’d like to see this supported in the future, but ambx seems to be dying out quickly.

  14. hi guys, i bought the starter kit at a knock down sale price, which includes a wall washer and 2 satellite lights. There are ports on the back of the wall washer for fans and rumble which can be added later. The wall washer connects to pc by usb. If the game you are playing is unsupported the lights show an average of screen values and there are 3 lights in the wall washer so if you have a coloured object that passes from left to right on your screen, the left sat lights up first then the left light in the washer, middle light, right light then right satellite.

    If the game is supported the lights can be programmed to flash colours which aren’t related to the screen so for example in Toca Race Driver the lights show red amber then green at the start of the race. Quake wars flashes a bright yellow light when you fire your weapon and the satellites flash red when you take damage.

  15. I want to use the fans and maybe rumble for the new oculus rift for movement, just signed up for ambx SDK hopefully to add it to farcry3.
    I think it will really heighten the immersion.

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