December 3, 2004 Straight from the set of Star Trek comes the "Holo-Dek", a unique virtual venue that offers multiplayer gaming on a fast-LAN network where all the action is projected onto high-definition viewing screens ranging from 6 to 16 feet in size. Complete with full-surround 7.1 Dolby sound, the result is an immersive environment that dominates the senses, delivering another step towards fully-fledged virtual reality and a blueprint for future interactive gaming theatres.

Mike Fortier and Kit McKittrick, co-founders of Holo-Dek Gaming two years ago, spent US$2.4 million in basic development before finally opening their doors in 2004. The Holo-Dek multi-faceted business plan takes advantage of its assets as fully networked theatre space to attract a wide demographic, including people outside the gaming community. The huge screens and broadband internet access allow video-conferencing, presentations, launches and the like for the business community, and the option is there to watch sporting events, pay-per view presentations or even normal TV or DVDs.

"We let people walk in and have instant access to an ideal gaming experience. Not everyone can spend the $5,000 on a system or the big screens and sound," McKittrick, the CEO of Holo-Dek, told Fosters, the New Hampshire daily.

But the gaming experience is what makes Holo-Dek unique. They offer all the latest games and technology on the market for both novices and professional gamers. Their Hamptons-based facility has 24 seats to accommodate players in a LAN-Network interacting with each other or gamers all over the world via the internet. Basic, single-person gaming stations are powered by the AlienWare CPU to offer a state-of-the-art experience in a gaming theatre. There are sixteen 73-inch screens, three 100-inch screens and a giant 13-foot screen. All can be connected to PCs or Xboxes, and players can play singly, against each other, or online.

Food and beverages can be ordered by the players at their terminals to keep them fueled and in the gaming experience, which also leads the venue towards branding itself as a restaurant facility for gamers.

"Basically, this is a video gaming theater... like a movie theater for gaming. Everybody gets a state of the art PC and at least a six-foot screen," says Fortier. "Think of it this way, people go to the movies because of the quality experience, the sound, the screen, instead of the regular TV. What we offer is a sort of movie experience, or Disneyland for gamers," he added.

Holo-Dek point out that the gaming market is rapidly approaching the same revenue as motion pictures. According to the US Entertainment Software Association video game revenue topped US $7 billion in 2003, almost double the US $3.7 billion sold in 1996. In comparison, the Motion Picture Association of America statistics reveal that movies grossed almost US $9.5 billion at the box office in 2003. With the figures getting closer, the video game industry is set to rival the traditional medium of film with it's immersive first person experience, and more and more gamers want to do that in a social setting where they can hang with other gamers and receive top quality service.

Holo-Dek facilities also include cutting edge equipment like the "Sphere", a 20-foot spherical screen with a 360 degree viewing surface that brings depth and distance to computer gaming, with the gamer sitting inside the screen. The full virtual wrap-around effect is still in development, but if it becomes a standard Holo-Dek component it will succeed in making the gaming experience truly virtual.

Holo-Dek have plans to expand their system to the mass-market. Using their Hamptons facility as a prototype, they hope to install four Sphere virtual screens, 12 of the 180-degree screen theatres, 300 individual gaming stations with hanging 73-inch screens and a full restaurant, all across the US, with the first centre opening in Baltimore sometime in 2005.

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