[I've cross-posted this in the default "D-Box Enthusiasts" thread, and also in a more appropriate forum since the D-Box system I'm reviewing is neither a display device, nor anywhere even close to $20,000+]
Review of D-Box System (MCI-2P + SRP-230)
After several months of careful research, my wife and I (ok, I, with my wife's generous consent) decided to purchase a D-Box system. Cost was a factor-- yet I wanted the full 3-axis, four-actuator, top-end D-Box experience, so we went with:
SRP-230 (four actuators plus a steel frame that mounts underneath your existing loveseat)
MCI-2P (control box that requires a PC and transforms the D-Box "motion code" programs into signals that are interpreted by the SRP-230 as motion and vibration).
After calling a variety of dealers for the best price, the total cost was very reasonable (I think forum rules preclude me from posting price or dealer info, but I am happy to share details by private message).
Amazingly, after being told that the system would take 7-14 days to arrive, UPS brought the packages to my door 2 days after I sent payment info to the dealer. Surprising, but I'll take it!
The parts were all packaged well and arrived more or less intact. Installation by myself was remarkably smooth (though in part because I did the installation carefully spread over three nights, rather than rushing to do it all it once). The most unusual step, interestingly, was cutting the steel tubes; this cutting is part of the installation instructions ("using a metal saw...") and is required, but my guess is that most people don't have a very easy way of cutting steel tubes in their home.
I also modified the installation procedure a bit compared with the instructions; indeed the instructions are a bit dated and certain holes that appear in the steel frame parts in the instructions aren't present in the actual parts
. The biggest procedural change I made was to mount each of the two actuator units to their half of the steel frame, then mount each of the resulting structures to the left or right side of the loveseat, and only *then* to join the left half and the right half of the frame together. In addition, I found the need to remove two of the four plastic stops designed to limit the extent to which the steel tubes can slide together. Finally, our loveseat is divided into two separate halves, so I constructed and painted a strong plywood joiner/riser to ensure that the middle of the loveseat would be completely suspended from the steel frame, and not touching the ground. I bolted the joiner/riser to the bottom of the seats and verified that it was strong enough to support plenty of weight.
All in all, the installation went smoothly and achieved my goal of showing no difference before vs. after other than the actuator units (which are fairly unobtrusive against my black leather seats) and the 1" steel frame. I carefully secured and routed all wires so that no cables-- power or data-- are visible from anywhere in the home theater room.
One major correction to the D-Box website FAQ—the FAQ clearly states that Cat-5E cables will not work to connect the controller and the actuator units, and that one must use legacy Cat-5 cables instead. This struck me as hard to believe, given that Cat-5E is just a higher performance version of a Cat-5 cable, with identical wiring conventions. I called D-Box to ask about this issue, and they maintained that Cat-5E cables will not work because “they are wired differently”. I told them that the wiring conventions (A or B) are the same, and really don’t matter as long as the cable is wired properly and is not a crossover cable. In the end, I need to wire 100’ of cable around the walls of the HT to connect the MCI-2P to the SRP-230 without any visible wires, and I could not readily obtain Cat-5 legacy cable at that length, so I trusted my intuition and just went with the Cat-5E cable. I’m happy to report that Cat-5E works just fine
. I’ll note that the SRP-230 comes with 50’ of Cat-5 cable, so this only becomes an issue if you need a longer run.
MCI-2P installation was a snap. It takes a power cable, the above mentioned Cat-5/5E cable terminated with a standard Ethernet plug, a USB cable to your PC, a S/PDIF in (optical or coax) from your PC or receiver or DVD/BD player, and a subwoofer in line from your receiver if you wish to use it as a super-subwoofer for audio playback.
Software installation was also easy, but took FAR longer than anticipated. Loading and decompressing the US-BD motion codes and US-DVD motion codes from the discs they provided took about 36 hours of computer time on a fast computer with fast RAID storage. Of course only about 20 GB was written to disk, which if just copied on my system would take only about 12 minutes, so most of the installation time was spend manipulating and decompressing the files. All that said, it was very easy to do and the internet updates after the disc installations were complete was also trivial (and fast!). For those of you begging for motion codes to “Wanted”-- I did noticed the Wanted motion codes whiz by during the internet updating
(I’ll also note that I had no problem simultaneously playing back a D-Box title while the rest of the motion code database was transferring and uploading, so you don’t have to wait 2 days for your motion code library to build itself before enjoying D-Box.)
After all the installation was complete, I fired everything up with a Blu-Ray of The Dark Knight… and presto, it all worked the first time! The only unexpected hitch I observed is that it takes about 5 minutes for the MCI-2P to recognize the SRP-230 after I launch the motion controller software. I’m not sure if this is a bug or normal, but it did initially cause me to try all sorts of troubleshooting (power cycling, checking plugs, etc.) before I realized that the “fix” was different each time, and then realized that the “fix” always happens about 5 minutes after I launch the program. Fortunately, you can keep the motion controller program running and don’t need to incur this 5-minute wait each time you watch a movie (unless you turn off your PC). Still, I’m hoping there is a patch or driver update that can address this issue.
Enough about the ordering, delivery, and installation… how does it feel? It’s simply amazing. D-Box adds a dimension to movie watching that evokes an instant emotional response. Driving scenes become actually scary when you feel your tires slipping and your car tilting in a too-sharp turn. Floating in water feels tranquil (or tumultuous) as waves pass under you. A sudden explosion is surprising and jarring in a very different way than if you simply watch and hear the explosion. In short, normal movie watching requires me to imagine what it must feel like to drive/run/crash/launch/explode/swim/glide in a scene. With D-Box I actually feel what it’s like first hand. In my opinion, the sensory experience expansion that D-Box provides is more profound than getting better speakers, or a better display device, or even going from 2.0 to 5.1 sound. It adds the visceral experience to movies that can actually be so powerful that it’s actually scary, unsettling, thrilling, or nauseating.
Of course the extent to which the motions are effective really depend on the artist who encodes them. Each motion code is signed by an artist, and I’ve started to notice certain stylistic similarities between motion code programs from the same artist. If D-Box (hopefully) becomes more mainstream, it would be ideal if directors worked with motion encoders to ensure a consistent and accurate interpretation of the director’s vision for the movement and vibration in a particular scene.
Three technical details that may not be widely known about D-Box:
1) You can adjust the “volume” (intensity) of the actuators on a 600-point scale, so you can turn down the motion if needed.
2) The ability of the actuators to vibrate (a la Buttkickers) is a tremendous addition to the movie experience. From 100 Hz to 1 Hz, the ability of four 250-lb actuators to directly vibrate you and your surroundings without relying on a speaker to vibrate the air, which then vibrates your surroundings, is a very powerful addition to the movie experience. For those of you who have never before experienced transducer-based vibration during movie watching, you are in for a treat. Indeed, I would say that the vibration capabilities of D-Box add just as much to a movie experience as the motion capabilities.
3) Using the controller software, you can adjust the “balance” between motion and vibration. So if the vibration is too distracting, or the motion is too much, you can attenuate one without affecting the other. Coupled with the master volume control, this setting allows you to finely tune the motion and vibration output to your tastes.
In summary, thus far I’ve had quite a positive experience with D-Box. Kudos to Yannick Gemme for his patience and assistance in answering my questions. Now I just hope the number of Blu-Ray D-Box titles will continue to expand!