Home Theater in a Chair
Media chairs, sometimes known as gaming chairs, aren't really a new technology -- they're just a new way to implement existing technology. But designing a media chair isn't as simple as taking a regular chair and attaching some speakers. Media chairs are designed from the ground up to incorporate the amp, speakers and wiring, keep the controls within easy reach and still give the user a comfortable place to sit.
At the most basic level, a media chair comprises the following components:
- The chair itself
- Front speakers
- Rear speakers
- A subwoofer
- An amplifier
- Digital and analog inputs
Some lower-priced media chairs aren't chairs at all. For example, the Pyramat Sound Lounger is a 64-inch long mat with a wedge-shaped pillow at one end, made from "high-density dual layer cushion." On the other end of the spectrum, the Spherex RX2 resembles an armchair and consists of a spruce plywood and hardwood frame, with steel springs supporting the cushion. High-density polyurethane foam makes the shape of the chair -- Spherex calls this material "acoustically transparent." The whole chair is covered with 100 percent polyester fabric. The HotSeat's Solo and Racer designs stand out the most. Designer Jay LeBoff wanted to create a gaming seat that felt more like a real race car for playing fast-paced racing games. The result is a racing seat mounted on a steel chassis.
Media chair speakers vary by placement and type. More expensive units have higher quality speakers, and chairs that feature surround sound will have an extra pair of speakers mounted somewhere in the front to give him the same type of experience that he would get from a home theater system. The rear speakers are placed in the back of the chair or embedded into the "shoulders" of the chair. In some models, the speakers are "satellites" placed on small arms that extend away from the body of the chair. The Pyramat is the odd one out -- the speakers are in the headrest, but they point away from the user. For surround sound chairs, the front speakers are placed either in the arms of the chair, or on small extensions, pointing toward the user. HotSeat chairs have front speakers mounted ahead of the user's feet.
Subwoofers provide bass as well as tactile rumbling sensations, and are usually mounted beneath the seat of the chair. The Pyramat has a subwoofer mounted in the wedge-shaped head cushion, placing it directly behind the user's head. Basic chairs usually have a 5- to 5.5-inch subwoofer. A few chairs, such as the Ultimate Game Chair, include transducers or vibration motors that shake the chair. These units are wired to pick up on both movement and sound much like the "rumble" controllers that come with most gaming consoles.
The amplifier is a vital element of media chairs. The wattage determines the power that will drive the speakers, and the number of channels will determine the type of surround sound system in the chair. Lower-end models have weaker amplifiers and only stereo sound, while the RX2 has a 300-watt, six-channel amp, and the Powerplay 5.1 Pro Media Chair boasts a 505-watt, six-channel amp.
Another important feature to consider is the audio inputs that the chair will accept. The Powerplay 5.1 Pro Media Chair has two digital and four analog inputs, allowing it to connect to a TV, CD player, computer or any gaming console. The Sound Rocker accepts component audio inputs, which allows connection to game consoles, TVs and DVD players, but not high-end digital audio. It also has a 1/8-inch input, so you can plug in an MP3 player or anything else with a headphone jack. Other chairs have some combination of those input options.
Next, we'll look at the pros and cons of media chairs.