Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Carlton Kids Augmented Reality Books



Sophie and Juliette love reading books so I was really happy when we were asked to review two new titles from Carlton Kids called Fairyland Magic and Dinosaurs Alive. When the lovely Ant from Carlton asked me if I had a webcam, I couldn't see the link but these aren't just ordinary books - they are very futuristic-sounding Augmented Reality books. On certain pages, you show a little symbol to your webcam and a 3D image leaps off the page and comes to life on your computer. Wow, I was really excited already and I'm a grown-up !



As I was busy working out how it all worked and installing the software, the girls started reading the books and looking at the pictures. As you can see from the photo, just as a normal reading book, they loved it and kept telling me interesting "facts" about fairies and dinosaurs !



Next came the magical bit. I installed the programme onto my laptop and told the girls to find one of the pages with a special symbol on. They pointed it at the webcam and - nothing happened ! It's a bit fiddly trying to get the webcam to actually detect the special hidden code that will bring it all to life but it's worth it when you hear the little tinkling noise and you suddenly get a fairy on your screen that you can control so that she sprinkles fairy dust, plays her flute, makes magical fairy flowers grow and changes their colour.



Once you've activated the symbol (my advice is to start close to the webcam and directly opposite then gradually move to a flatter position further back once you have the picture on screen), you can turn the book so that the fairy turns around and you can view it from all angles, get closer to see it in more detail or further away if she's flitting about the screen. Even better is the fact that your webcam still works as a webcam so you can get in shot too. You can see Juliette here looking totally enchanted by the fairy but it was even more impressive with the Dinosaurs Alive book, when the girls (OK, and me !) had fun snarling at dinosaurs and pretending to bite their heads off !

You can't really see how impressive it all is from a photo so I highly recommend you check out the videos on the Books Come Alive website to see them in action. Even as an adult, I can't get my head around the technology so you can imagine how totally enchanted and excited the girls were.

The concept is absolutely faultless but unfortunately, we did have a few technical issues. For some reason, the software won't run on our main computer at all (you can check the requirements before you buy on the help page to avoid disappointment) but it all installed and ran smoothly on my laptop with its inbuilt webcam. The Dinosaurs Alive book was really easy to use - the magic symbols activated really easily and the dinosaurs appeared on the screen each time within seconds. It was a lot harder to get the webcam to interact with the symbols in the Fairyland Magic book though and it took a good couple of minutes of tilting the book and trying different angles and distances from the webcam to get the magic to work. Even so, despite persevering on two separate occasions, I only managed to get the first two AR (augmented reality) symbols to kick in. The final three won't work at all, which the girls are really disappointed about because they desperately want to catch a "real-life" fairy on the little disc enclosed in the book. I haven't given up yet, I'll be taking the book with us when we visit the grandparents to see if I can get it to work on their computers/webcams but it might be an idea to try it out before offering it as a gift to make sure it all works on your system to avoid huge disappointment.

Despite these technical difficulties, I'm totally blown away by the concept. I found the books to be a bit too gender-specific (although this didn't bother the girls in the slightest - they happily read both !) but there is also a third book available, The Magic of Christmas, which would appeal to both girls and boys. If you have kids who aren't that keen on reading, this would be a great way to inspire them to get enthusiastic about books as it's almost a cross between a book and a video game that they can interact with.

I was expecting a nasty shock when I went to look at the price but I was actually pleasantly surprised. At £14.99, they're about the price of any similar glossy-paged, hardback kids' book without the augmented reality technology incorporated so they seem good value to me. I'll definitely be recommending them to mums of reluctant readers and offering them as birthday gifts (after checking the recipients have the required computer equipment) and I'll be looking out for the Magic of Christmas book to help get the kids all excited in the run up to Christmas !

star rating : 4.5/5 (but definitely 5/5 if we hadn't had the technical issues)

RRP : £14.99


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