review of the new game console Nex Playground

review of the new game console Nex Playground

At CES 2024, Nex Playground was named the most interesting innovation of the year. Unusually, the console uses motion tracking technology to allow users to control the gameplay. We decided to find out where the trend of “controlling the whole body” came from and what the future holds for the game industry with the development of artificial intelligence. For more details, see below.

What started it all

When it appeared on the market in 2006

Nintendo Wii

, the idea of ​​a console that made players jump and dance was revolutionary. Instead of just being glued to the screen, people at home began to move more during video games. Nintendo led the way in the late 2000s and sold more than 100 million Wii consoles. And then continued the idea with

Switch

which overshadowed the previous version on sale

Microsoft also developed its Kinect console, which used a camera instead of a button-laden controller. But, as often happens, the novelty soon wore off and the development of video games for active movement stopped. Except for virtual reality consoles such as Meta Quest (formerly Oculus VR).

To control the gameplay in Meta Quest, the developers added cameras in the headset and controllers that respond to movements. His main hit was the music game Beat Saber, in which you have to break blocks that fly to the beat with lightsabers. However, players were very limited by virtual reality, which proved to be expensive and out of reach for many.

Appearance of Nex Playground.

The idea of ​​”full body” video games has remained popular and now has a new incarnation in Nex Playground. The console runs a modified version of Android and is powered by an Arm Cortex A-series SoC. Nex’s box is significantly smaller than any of the major gaming platforms and is only half the size of the Wii. At the CES 2024 exhibition, it was rated as one of the most interesting innovations of this year.

About the company Nex


Nex is an American gaming company engaged in entertainment in the field of augmented reality. She developed Playground, a compact gaming device with a wide-angle camera, sharp graphics and high performance. Using motion detection technology based on artificial intelligence, the console captures players’ movements and turns living rooms into interactive virtual playgrounds.

The company was founded in 2017 in San Francisco by former Apple engineers. They developed the HomeCourt app, which uses artificial intelligence and motion tracking on mobile devices to analyze basketball players’ technique. The NBA has invested in Nex to further develop HomeCourt.

In 2020, HomeCourt became a viral app in the US during the pandemic as youth sports were canceled and many athletes used it at home to continue training. At that time, Nex was working with

Unity

on the integration of artificial intelligence that tracks movement. As a result, a game appeared

Active Arcade

. It became a hit in 2021, attracting over three million users worldwide and becoming the #1 fitness app in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia.

After that, Nex continued to create animated games and developed a tool for Unity – the Nex Motion Development Kit. Now any developer could create their own VR games without additional tools or knowledge of ML models.

When Nex began applying its AI technology to sports training, the response to the dynamic sports-themed games was overwhelmingly positive, prompting even more users to gamify their workouts.

Object tracking.

By combining sports movements with interactive content in Unity, Nex leads a new category of AI entertainment. Instead of requiring expensive headsets or sensors, the Nex Motion Experience works on any modern device. Using a camera, it tracks 18 points on the user’s body and matches movements with gameplay in real time

Motion games predated the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning, so motion tracking was often crude, inefficient, and inaccurate. To solve this problem, Nex created a special neural network that uses machine learning to achieve high levels of accuracy and performance.

The process of playing on Nex Playground.


Pros and cons of the new console


Let’s consider the main advantages of Nex Playground.

Ease of use. The device works with HD TVs that support Android TV. The console comes with one cylindrical controller, a power supply and an HDMI cable. The remote control has tactile feedback and a microphone for voice control. There is no need for additional sensors or wearable devices. The video is processed locally, nothing is stored or sent to the cloud. It takes less than 150 milliseconds to display the player’s actions on the screen.

Cost. Pre-orders on the Nex website start at $179, including hardware and four games. An additional 20 games can be purchased for $89 per year with Play Pass (not to be confused with Google Play Pass). Compared to other consoles such as Meta Quest or Xbox Kinect, it is inexpensive.

Family format. What sets this console apart from the rest is its emphasis on games for the whole family. No gunfights and no horrors, although with limited content and a subscription model, Nex Playground will have a hard time claiming the place of popular home entertainment. Up to four players can join the game at the same time.

Now let’s move on to the disadvantages of the Nex console.

Limited library. The console limits the user solely to its library of games and fitness apps, the user has no access to the Play Store, streaming TV services or web browsing.

Bad management. Users cannot use the controller during gameplay. The built-in camera detects movement if there is enough light in the room and the player’s clothing is different from what is behind him. However, the controller is equipped with a mini-joystick and two buttons, so it can be used as an input device in other games.

Alternative consoles. As interesting as Nex Playground is, most users would rather buy games for already popular consoles than switch to another. Motion tracking technology has come a long way, but now that games are based on movement or virtual reality workouts, the simple graphics of the Nex will feel like a throwback to the past.

Let’s summarize

Sure, the first couple of weeks will be fun, but will it spark interest over and over again? Local multiplayer is a nice way to get the whole family together to play, but few will want to play on this console alone. But even with so little content, it’s likely the console will gather dust in a corner once the novelty wears off.

There is a possibility that the console will be interesting for children who have not played video games before. But if they have already played on PlayStation or Xbox, they are unlikely to accept Nex Playground as a worthy alternative. There is no Mario, no Pokemon and no Zelda.

The potential of Nex Playground


Nex has partnered to launch Sky Live, an interactive camera for Sky Glass in the UK. This collaboration with Sky, a subsidiary of Comcast, marks a long-term partnership with Nex, which provides animated games on Sky Live.

In addition, Nex is actively developing animated games for Sony BRAVIA CAM TVs. Similarly, Apple announced support for Continuity Camera, which will allow the iPhone camera to be used as a primary tool for Apple TV. This opens up new areas of interactivity that were previously unattainable. Nex has included Apple tvOS support in its MDK, compatible with iOS, Android, Mac, PC and Android TV.

Nex presentation in New York, December 2023.

As Smart TVs begin to catch up with mobile computers, they will be able to run more complex interactive programs and games. In many ways, smartphones and tablets are already beginning to compete with game consoles in terms of graphics and performance. This level of computing power is now available for streaming boxes and smart TVs.

The biggest obstacle to gaming on these devices was the lack of a natural input mechanism. TV remotes are not the most convenient solutions for gaming, and game controllers can be unattractive accessories for ordinary consumers.

Nex believes that natural and intuitive interfaces based on movement will open up new potential for interaction with gadgets in the same way that touchscreens have shown new possibilities for mobile use.

Also, augmented reality has great prospects for social and active game applications. The use of the user’s real environment in AR games involves interaction with other people and the physical space itself at the same time, which is often absent in other types of games, including VR. However, AR games are usually either social or active. Nex believes that games can be both.

AR is virtual elements superimposed on the real view of the physical world. The Nex Playground has no display and no bottom unit, but it’s still AR. Nex turns the standard console model upside down – it has more advantages over “regular” AR. Over a decade ago, the PlayStation Move used a similar model, as did the Xbox Kinect. But now Nex relies on artificial intelligence that didn’t exist in 2010.

TVs do not yet have really good computer processing. Memory is still limited, but this is only the beginning of such use cases. Nex has a chance to pioneer this technology and continue to develop innovative solutions, from AR games and fitness apps to simple gestures to navigate traditional media.

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