Sony Wonderbook: some wonder, very little book

JK Rowling's Book of Spells aims to bring a magical book to life on the PlayStation 3 via augmented reality (AR), but is it really a "reading experience"?

Call it a toy, call it an experience, but we're not sure you should call it a book. JK Rowling's Book of Spells, the launch title for Sony's Wonderbook platform that was announced at Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2012, was originally touted during Sony's press conference as being a way to bring reading to life.

We had a chance to check out the Wonderbook at Sony's E3 booth, and we're not sure reading really entered that much into the equation. It is, however, a fun AR toy with some beautiful animations.

The Wonderbook is a large bound volume of what amounts to coded AR cards, in six different spreads. The book is waterproof, according to a Sony representative, and the volume feels clean and well-built. The pages are like those in a children's board book.

Sony Wonderbook

(Credit: CNET)

The book, when placed on the floor at the proper distance from a PlayStation Eye camera, mirrors the book on your TV, where it animates into a truly stunning experience. The book pages animate with a hand-drawn look that feels very Harry Potter-like and, occasionally, large 3D objects emerge from the book's pages — a pumpkin, a puppet theatre (seen above) or even a large hole, burrowing into the book's pages. Picking up the book and turning it around turns the 3D objects on TV; when it works, which it generally did, it was seamless.

This technology isn't new; card-coded AR games have been around on the PlayStation since Eye of Judgement and EyePet. Wonderbook prints the cards into a bound volume, a clever way of organising the cards. Sony says that future titles will use the same single Wonderbook, so there's nothing else to buy.

If you have a PlayStation Move controller, it becomes a magic wand on the screen and up to 20 spells can be cast across a number of lessons, following instructions and small stories that appear on-screen, from the pages in the book. Occasionally, mini-games emerge that feel like standard PlayStation Move fare, with motion-controlled wand gaming to cast spells.

Wonderbook is amusing, even magical at times, but it's more of a toy than a reading experience, redefined. That being said, attaching JK Rowling to the Wonderbook's first title should ensure that it will be a popular gift for children — provided they already own a PlayStation 3.


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