Gaming is, at its core, a very visual medium. But as the years and generations of games have moved on, the sound of video games have matured, too. Cutting edge sound-effects, orchestral scores and contributions of big-name musicians are all part of today's games - and that's without mentioning the ever-growing range of games based around music.
For many, a high quality headset is just what they need to get the most out of a game's audio. But for those of you who want the sounds of their games to fill the whole room and not just your head, a costly surround-sound system is no longer the only answer.
The VIBE Optisound is a subwoofer designed for gaming, and promising a full surround-sound experience using your existing TV speakers with a massive boost of the bass (which they tell us is not directional, and thus gives the impression of sound being made all around the room. Who knew?). This powerful unit is compatible with Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii, and, as it uses only the red and white audio inputs, it is also largely compatible with many other products - in short, it's not just for consoles, but TVs, Sky+ boxes, DVD and Blu-Ray players, stereo systems and more, a versatility that is not often found in a lot of higher-end gaming audio equipment.
We put the VIBE Optisound to the test to see just how well it fares, and just how far this versatility goes. First impressions - it is powerful. Perhaps too powerful. We initially had the volume level set at half-way, and very quickly had to turn it down as this was much louder than we'd anticipated, and as bass has a tendency to vibrate through walls and floors more than other sounds, we'd recommend you start low and work your way up to a volume level that's suitable for you and your neighbours!
Once the volume level was set, it was pretty much right for each of the games we tried out in our attempt to see just how well it works across a range of older and newer games. The good news is, it works rather well for almost everything we played, with some really coming to life thanks to the extra boost.
First-up was fighting. The beat 'em up action of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and in-ring mayhem of WWE '13 were our guinea pigs here, and the subwoofer did a good job of adding a suitable boom to both the boasting and the brawling, with each hit getting that extra sense of impact. The action of Batman: Arkham City fared pretty much the same, but a stand-out was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed - the hum of Starkiller's Lightsaber was as bold as its big-screen counterparts.
More weapons came to life when we switched to shooter territory. The booms of Battlefield 3 resonate around the room, with the heartbeat, breathing and sheer force of sniper shots a particular stand-out. The echoes and whispers of Aliens Vs. Predator prove to be suitably atmospheric and even 007 Legends seemed that bit more legendary - the classic Bond themes as much as the firepower. That said, the volume boost was not really a suitable alternative to the full surround-sound experience needed for first-person battles, especially if you're used to being able to hear the direction enemies are coming from.
F1 2012 was something of a disappointment. We were hoping to get an extra purr to our engine, but the higher-pitch of the Formula 1 cars was at a contrast with the bass that the Optisound delivers. Need For Speed: Most Wanted did, however, live up to our driving expectations, with the cars not just purring but practically roaring through the streets of Fairhaven. Where it really excelled, though, was music games. The guilty pleasures that are Just Dance 4 and Rocksmith got the most play as the subwoofer really boosted the songs to create a proper party atmosphere (and, in the case of Rocksmith, a real sense of rock stardom!), and proved that a gaming subwoofer is not just something for the hardcore, but something that can be enjoyed by enjoyed by gamers of all tastes.
Does it create the full surround-sound experience then? Not quite, and if 5.1 directional sound is what you're looking for, this isn't for you. Another thing to think about is that the power lead isn't as long as you'd expect, so you will have to consider where you put the unit as part of you gaming/ home entertainment 'hub'. But niggles aside, this is a powerful piece of kit, especially for the price, and if you want something to give your games an extra boost of sound and bring everything from power-slams to party songs to life, the VIBE Optisound is the subwoofer that will make your games pop. Plus, it's versatile enough to be used for more than just gaming, which means it can be a justified extravagance for the more casual gamers out there. Just remember the neighbours, okay?