Monday, May 26, 2014

REVIEW: D-Box MFX Motion Seats

What is D-Box?

Not all theatre seats are made equally. D-Box Motion FX (MFX) Seats are the next generation in movie immersiveness, or at least it tries to be. I recently watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier with D-Box at the Cineplex Odeon Eglinton Town Centre, which is one of only two D-Box equipped theatres in Toronto, the other being Silvercity Yorkdale.
D-Box is a Canadian company based out of Longueuil, Quebec that has been in the motion FX business since 2001. Originally catering to the luxury home market, the D-Box system was integrated into home theatre and gaming seats. The D-Box system then made its 2009 debut in a commercial theatre with The Fast & Furious.

D-Box uses a patented system to translate their Motion Code into MFX with actuators in the seat. It can produce horizontal and vertical movement in addition to vibrations. The Motion Code is created by D-Box to sync with action occurring in the movie.

The D-Box Experience

Since D-Box seating costs twice as much as a regular ticket, my expectations were quite high. Upon entering the theatre, it is clear where the D-Box seats are since they are distinctively red. D-Box presentations have assigned seating so there is no need to rush into the cinema to fight for a good seat.
Row of D-BOX seats
Most D-Box cinemas have two rows of the seats. The cinema I went to had the two rows of D-Box seats at the very back while others may have them somewhere in the middle. Upon arriving at the seats, a staff member asks you for your ticket to ensure you paid the premium price.

The D-Box seats are not just conventional theatre seats that move. The seats are different in a number of ways. The left armrest has a standard cup holder, while the right arm features a special controller. The controller allows the guest to select the level of motion, which varies from absolutely nothing to high. Aside from having a larger amount of legroom, the D-Box seats were also wider and more comfortable. Another great feature is that each guest has their own set of armrests - no sharing necessary. Thanks to the built-in motors, the seat is also higher than most theatre seats. I did not notice it myself but one of my friends pointed out to me that their feet could not reach the floor.  

D-BOX seat
Another fact worth noting is that these motion seats do not have seat belts. Unlike other motion theatres, notably those at amusement parks where the motions are significant and the seat belt is actually needed, the motions are much more subtle with D-Box. The motions were largely just vibrations of different intensities. The vibrations in the car chases and fight scenes were also indiscernible between one another. Swaying in different directions were used in scenes where the camera was tracking something falling. As the movie progressed, the motions got more repetitive. D-Box would be much more immersive if there was a footrest that moved with the chair, which I compensated for by lifting my feet off the ground.

Leaving the cinema, I found that my legs were somewhat numb from all the vibrations. A possible reason for the subdued motions is that the motions can take a toll on your body. Motion theatres at amusement parks usually feature shorter films which clock in at around 15 minutes. This allows them to move much more as the duration of those films are quite short. On the other hand, D-Box is used for full length feature films which last around two hours. If traditional motion seats were used for a full length film, guests could become quite numb, if they are not sick. Because of the more subtle motions, D-Box is suitable for movie snacks and spillage should not be a problem although drinks will be shaken.

D-Box is definitely not for guests that are prone to motion sickness, if that was not obvious, as it is also normally paired with 3D. While I am not prone to motion sickness, I did get a slight headache near the end of the movie as the combination of the 3D and the motion got to me.

My D-Box experience was not the best as it could be because of the theatre. At the Cineplex Odeon Eglinton Town Centre, four pairs of lights on either side of the screen were on and only slightly dimmed during the movie. When we asked the manager of the theatre, they said they had to be left on for safety reasons even when the cinema had in-floor lighting to help guide guests if they had to leave during the movie. Other theatres I have been to did not have the need for this ‘safety’ measure as in-floor lighting was enough, rather than bright lights on either side of the screen which was very distracting.

The D-Box experience had its pros and cons. In terms of immersiveness, D-Box was better than just regular 3D but it was far from realistic. It could be greatly improved with a simple footrest attached to the seat. While D-Box provided lackluster motion, the seats were quite comfortable and they provided the benefit of reserved seating, extra legroom, and personal armrests. Also, the first row of D-Box seats may be better than the second row as the motion from the first row may be distracting for guests in the second row, depending on how much space there is between the rows.

D-Box is usually available for blockbuster action films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier or The Amazing Spiderman 2. Other genres, such as romantic comedy, won't have D-Box options - for obvious reasons.

While the cost does not justify the experience, it is worth a try. With Cineplex’s SCENE loyalty program, once you earn 1000 SCENE points, you can redeem a free movie and this includes D-Box presentations, which is a great way to spend your points. An awesome addition would be the integration of motions in TimePlay, an interactive quiz-style game played on guests' mobile devices, to provide tactile feedback when a question is incorrect, further immersing guests into the game.

Images courtesy of D-Box.