Disclaimer: I was not paid by WhirlwindFX to review their gadget. The ideas and review expressed are my own.
In the age of virtual reality gaming and the push to bring this technology to every household, one gadget stands apart from the rest. No, it’s not another joy-con or a better headset. Matter of fact this is something you can connect to your PC and feel the explosions on-screen. Not only the blast, but the heat as well.
Introducing Vortx, the world’s first environmental gaming simulator. Happen to be playing a game or watching a video and you see an explosion? This gadget will ensure you feel the heat from it. Taking your bike off any sweet jumps to feel the wind in your hair? Yep, you’ll feel it in real life. In real time. Oh, did we mention the Twitch integration for streamers to utilize?
But now for the real question. Does the WhirlwindFX Vortx live up to the hype? Will it #BlowYouAway? Let’s dig in and take a look!
When I first tested out this gadget, I was slightly skeptical and unsure what to expect. I was a bit worried the instructions might be too complicated or have too many steps. Boy, I’m glad I was wrong. The instructions are simple and there are only 5 steps, though I can boil it down to three simple steps. Plugin Vortx to power and computer, Download the software and install, Finally turn on Vortx and once it connects you are ready!
If you have only one monitor, or your PC is a laptop, you don’t have to worry about selecting which monitor the Vortx should watch as it selects it automatically. Twitch integration is easy as well, which means if you are a streamer you can trigger certain commands or events to shoot a blast of wind or hot air in your face. For my test I just set it to a universal command and it worked as promised.
Keep in mind the Vortx only works on a Windows 10 PC. Mac and Linux systems are not supported… yet…
There were only a couple things that prevented us from giving it a higher score. First is the noise and the energy usage. If you’re not aware, the fans might initially scare you from the sound but they aren’t too loud to be a problem, especially if you’re using headphones. When we tested out energy usage, it was pulling it like crazy. We came close to dimming lights but nothing too bad. Granted we understand only so much can be done to minimize noise and energy usage without ruining the gadget and causing other problems but for a first release, it stands up well.
Finally, the other reason it didn’t score higher is because of a couple things regarding the software. It uses a fair amount of memory so if you are running multiple programs or boosting higher graphics performance a normal PC might struggle. The screen may tear or drop frames during gameplay and overwhelm the system. You may need to tweak some settings so that just the game and the Vortx software is running to ensure smooth performance. We tested it on a higher-end (albeit a couple years old) gaming desktop with other programs running, higher game graphics and livestreaming and even then our PC was struggling to keep up. Turning off the livestream + software + other programs and boosting the game performance with just the Vortx software worked out much better. Keep in mind that today’s gaming PC can probably handle it with just a few game performance tweaks. The software itself is either entirely on or off. What we’d like to see included in a future patch is the option to just monitor Twitch commands or just react to what is happening on the monitor. That way if a streamer just wanted to have the commands without also monitor input, they could do so with a simple on/off switch. Outside of that, the software was easy to use and understand.
Read on to get an exclusive Q&A session and our final rating!
Q&A With Tim Sun And Phil Marineau
At this point I know you have some burning questions, luckily we were able to chat recently with both Tim Sun, CEO of Whirlwind FX and Phil Marineau, CMO of Whirlwind FX to get some answers!
What was the inspiration behind Vortx?
Tim Sun, Founder and CEO of Whirlwind FX the makers of Vortx, was at a VR meetup in San Francisco. Tim has always been an avid gamer and fan of immersion in media. While in the middle of a VR demo that put Tim at the top of Mt. Everest, someone opened the door to the room. Tim was hit with a blast of cool, Bay Area night air as he looked around the icy mountain top of Everest. An engineer by trade, Tim set out to recreate that level of depth by designing Vortx. He discovered early on that getting developers to program for a peripheral with no install base was a losing battle so he teamed up with Whirlwind FX’s Head of Software Matt Gilg. Together they were able to create a cool, plug-and-play
device that will work with any game right out of the box without any third party tools or programming.
How does the Vortx know the difference between wind, snow, and fire?
The short answer is via our EX Algorithm.The longer and more technical answer is…we use several audio feature extraction techniques and combine them with computer-vision feedback, giving us an increasingly more complex understanding of the scene. With the EX Algorithm we read audio and video data, and develop coefficients for general aspects of the audiovisual landscape. Using a variety of computer vision techniques, we can perform complex operations that give us an accurate estimation of heat source positions and overall scene motion. This data is then translated into warm and cool haptic effects.
Do you have plans to support other computer systems and perhaps consoles in the future?
Right now we are focused on making Vortx the best environmental simulator for PC gaming. We would love to bring the tech to consoles and we have even seen some users and streamers hack the experience via a capture card. However, at this time PC is our primary focus as we continue to improve the algorithm and add new features like Streamer Mode (beta) and Fan/Heater Mode. We’ll have more to talk about in 2019.
What was the toughest challenge in getting the Vortx to work?
Vortx works with any game and being able to make that claim is something we take very seriously. We believe Vortx works best with games like Shooters, Action Adventure and BR titles but the system was built to work across all media. Some experiences are better than others and so the constant tuning and tweaking to make the algorithm better, accurate and most of all fun is our greatest challenge. Second, this is a brand new product in a smart, hyper-competitive space so educating and convincing PC gamers on the use cases and benefit of Vortx has been fun but challenging as well.
Who would enjoy this gadget more, the casual gamer or a semi-popular streamer?
For the casual gamer, Vortx adds a greater immersion and presence inside the gameplay experience. We like to say we add “WOW” to the gameplay wow moments. When the grenade in Battlefield V blows up next to you or you jump out of the Battle Bus in Fortnite it feels amazing. Something you want to have a friend come over and try out for themselves.
For the streamer, we always saw Vortx as a fun peripheral to entertain their audience. In Vortx mode, a streamer has the potential to be more expressive and enjoyable to the audience if they can actually feel the simulated heat for example from dragon fire in Skyrim. In streamer mode, a streamer and their audience can physically interact for the first time ever via our ChatBot integration that allows commands in chat to trigger wind and light effects on the streamers Vortx unit. A streamer can also enable custom stream notifications via Vortx to work in conjunction with whatever tools they currently have running.
If the Twitch integration goes well, will you be expanding to other livestream platforms?
Absolutely, but we are focusing on Twitch right now as they have the largest market share. On our website, streamers can sign-up and apply to be an Affiliate Marketing Partner. Based off their size and commitment to streaming, we build packages around Vortx and them. We have seen a lot of interest in the streaming community which we are thrilled about. Facebook, YouTube, and Mixer streamers have reached out to us as well, so I believe we would start there and evaluate what it would take to incorporate those platforms.
What are some features that may be included in future versions?
We are always watching and learning when it comes to what we can do better. Whether it is algorithm accuracy or the way streamers and audiences interact with our new streamer mode (beta). An example would be Fan / Heater Mode – we had several folks ask us if we would incorporate that functionality into Vortx and since Matt is a wizard, he was able to get it working and designed in under a month. In terms of the future, we have several ideas including sub-audio triggering, mirroring for streamers and potentially a light API for Vortx controls but those all live as Post-Its on our wish board for now as we listen and prioritize what we hear from our community.
We give the WhirlwindFX Vortx a solid 9.5 out of 10. It is so close to perfection, we can’t imagine NOT using it! Seriously, we got so used to the wind and the hot air blasts that after we turned it off we still expected to feel something. Using Vortx is like the Pringles commercial; once you start you just can’t stop! We love how simple it is to setup, use and how easily it works. We had some doubts but were #BlownAway. We can’t wait to see what features come next!
Pricing for the WhirlwindFX Vortx starts at $119.99USD and is available on their website. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!