Would you spend US $300 to feel—instead of just see—the impact of hockey players hitting the boards? Comcast Sportsnet California, the San Jose Sharks hockey team, and the Guitammer Company are betting at least some rabid hockey fans will. They’ve wired up the SAP Center, the home ice of the San Jose Sharks, to detect the vibrations of hockey players crashing into the boards.
Here’s how it works. At the arena, 76 sensors attached to the panels that ring the rink detect the vibrations of players crashing into them; Guitammer’s “4D Sports” system converts those vibrations into a signal that a technician monitors and makes sure is mixed properly into the TV coverage of the game. (A process that they say will eventually be made automatic; this is admittedly an early version of the technology.) The vibration information goes out to viewers as part of the standard television feed. To feel the impact of the hits at home, TV viewers will need to purchase the $300 ButtKicker (I kid you not), a gadget that attaches to a chair or couch and uses low-frequency audio signals (the company calls it a silent sub-woofer) to shake the furniture in perfect synchrony to the on-screen action.
The gadget was originally developed to bump up the bass effect without cranking up the volume for people listening to music, watching movies, or playing videogames. (The company’s name, Guitammer, is a mashup of “guitar” and “hammer”.)
The technology debuted with the broadcast of the Sharks-Florida Panthers game on November 20. Said San Jose Sharks COO, John Tortora, in a press release, “The Sharks are pleased to be the first NHL team to test Guitammer’s 4D technology. We think this will be an exciting an unique way for our fans to enjoy Sharks hockey from the comfort of their homes.” Because everybody needs a kick in the butt once in a while.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 30 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.