Thursday, September 15, 2005

Kilowatt Sport

This controller turns nearly every game you play into a workout. It's a strain gauge; it measures the amount of force you exert against a metal bar in various directions and translates that into analog joystick movements. Many games use one joystick to move a character around on the screen. With a Kilowatt device, you can use whole upper body strength rather than a few thumb muscles to manipulate that joystick.

The controller doesn't move; you push against it. Or pull, or some combination of the two. How much force does it need? As much as you want. You can set the resistance requirements on a scale from 1 to 20; I just got mine and currently play at around level 5.

Racing games seem like a natural for this. In Grand Turismo you can map the controller such that you push forward to accelerate, pull back to brake, and push right or left to steer. But with racing games the exercise is too monotonous - you end up pushing forward at full strength continuously for long blocks of time. This gets tiring fast, like holding a pushup position indefinitely. Other games provide a better mixture of physical movements. I really enjoyed Prince of Persia: Sands of Time - it provided an especially good gaming experience when the Prince was dragging or pushing heavy objects around. Arcade classics such as Sinistar, Bubbles, and Marble Madness work well too.

Exercise type: resistance training, mostly upper body.

Advantages: Play any videogame that uses the analog controllers and get a workout.

Disadvantages: All current Kilowatt models are expensive and take up a lot of physical space - about as much as an exercise bike. The cheapest one is about $500, discounted. The Sport is smaller than most but costs $800 and is inconvenient to adjust. PowerGrid has announced development of a cheaper, smaller version that will be used in a seated position and may cost as little as $200 but this has not yet been released.

PowerGrid gives essentially no guidance as to how to use the thing other than configuring the controls to work with a few specific games. They say you should change games and controller positions often, but don't suggest how high to put the controller or the backrest to exercise specific muscle groups or avoid injuries. I'm guessing the reason for this is that they don't really know which exercises are more or less effective or risky than others. The single "white paper" on the PowerGrid site merely demonstrates that using the Killowatt involves significant physical exertion.

Conclusion: So far, I love it! If I'm going to spend hours playing a videogame I'd much rather it require some physical exertion than veg out on the couch exercising nothing but fingers and thumbs. If you have the space and the means, I highly recommend this peripheral. Still, you might want to wait for the price to come down a bit more. And be on the lookout for actual studies that might dispel or confirm lingering concerns about RSI...
PowerGrid's "white paper"
New York Times review of Kilowatt Sport

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Blogger Glen said...

Instead of having /two/ analog joysticks, the kilowatt has one normal analog stick (operated with the left thumb) and the strain gauge is the other. So you have to pick which one you want major body effort to handle. There's a switch that lets you adjust the mapping, and also some games such as gran turismo let you remap the controls with a settings dialog.

You are correct in assuming that if a game uses both joysticks equally it won't work well with the Kilowatt. For instance, Katamari Damancy isn't a good fit. But that's the exception more than the rule.

I didn't have any trouble operating other buttons at the same time as the joystick.

1/02/2006 9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your review. But I have a question. Are you still using the kilowatt..? can you give us an update?

7/27/2006 9:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah... an update would be in order...

1/08/2007 4:13 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

At one point they had a list of games which worked well with the stick..any idea what became of it? I use mine most every day with burnout revenge :)

1/31/2008 11:32 AM  

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