Ultimate Game Chair Free Play Review

Written by Joe Martin

August 8, 2009 | 09:02

Tags: #budget #gadget #haptic #massage #vibrate

Companies: #chair #ultimate-game-chair

Good Vibrations

The main function of the mat though isn’t really to provide a solid audio experience. Or, at least, we hope it isn’t. Instead, what the mat is really supposed to do is vibrate and provide immersion/massage by running motors incorporated into the fabric.

The fabric is very nice by the way, so before we go any further we’ll add that little positive note in there. It’s spongy, soft and the lining is packed with little holes that allow it to breath should the user have a sweaty backside or a curry the night before. All we really care about is that it’s soft and our jeans don’t slip and skid off of it like shaved, greased kittens trapped inside a bin bag.

Get that image out of your head!

When it comes to vibrating though, the Free Play quickly falls into the entirely polarised good and bad news categories.

The good news is that setting the Free play up and actually using it is incredibly easy as it's also very versatile. The mat itself is, unlike some other models, utterly wireless thanks to an included wireless transmitter and rechargeable battery. The wireless transmitter connects up to anything with a 3.5mm headphone jack or audio-out too, streaming the sound from the device to the Free Play. We tried the Free Play out on a number of different things, from Xbox 360 to PC to iPhone and it worked fine every time.

Ultimate Game Chair Free Play Review Good Vibrations? Ultimate Game Chair Free Play Review Good Vibrations?
The Wireless Transmitter can be hooked up to everything from iPhones to Xbox 360s

One thing we especially liked was the fact that you weren't forced to rely on the crappy speakers in the Free Play either. You can plug the transmitter into your soundcard, then plug your headphones into the control box on the side of the Free Play. On this little control box there are dials to alter the volume and mode of the Free Play – it can either sync to sound from the transmitter or switch to an always-on massage mode.

Now the bad news. First off, the transmitter isn't very good quality and you're plugging your headphones into a vibrating mat that's full of electro-magnets. The combined result of which is that there tends to be some noticeable interference in the audio: crackling and whining noises in the background could be heard on both over and in-ear headphones that we tried using.

The main problem though is that the vibrating motors in the Free Play just aren't very well used. In massage mode they all spin constantly and the sensation quickly descends from being novel and pleasant into just irritating and numbing as the motors aren't really capable of creating much more than a buzz of movement. It's basically like sitting on a chair made of electric toothbrushes.

Ultimate Game Chair Free Play Review Good Vibrations? Ultimate Game Chair Free Play Review Good Vibrations?
The Free Play mat has an awkward fit on some types of chairs and really requires a high back

In sync mode, which supposedly translates in-game action into vibrations to create a deeper gaming experience, the problem gets worse thanks to a lack of intelligent understanding about the noises generated. The idea that your chair should whir and give you a little jolt when a grenade goes off next to you is good and all, but in reality the Free Play isn't able to detect such a specific in-game event. Instead, it just gives an all-body buzz whenever the transmitter picks up noise over a certain volume set by the sensitivity dial. Thus, instead of acting just when relevant events are going off, the Free Play is just constantly spinning as it picks up the ambient noise and music featured in most games.

We tried the Free Play out with a number of popular games and the result was always the same – just a constant buzzing. The wind blows? Buzz.. A character talks? Buzz. A grenade explodes right under you? Buzz. Far away from you? Buzz. There's really no difference between massage and sync mode on this front and, while you can alter the sensitivity to tune the experience somewhat, it's impossible to really get rid of it and create a proper vibratory experience.

It's fairly obvious what the Free Play needs – some simple gaming profile software, such as with peripherals like the G19 or Force Feedback gamepads. To really achieve its aim of increasing immersion then it needs a method to react intelligently to in-game actions and vibrate only to things that merit them – otherwise it's just constantly spinning its motors, which isn't something that's entirely pleasant or worthwhile.

  • Build Quality
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  • -
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  • Ease of Use
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  • -
  • 9/10
  • Performance
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  • -
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  • Value
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  • 6/10
  • Overall
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  • -
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  • 5/10
Score Guide
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