I’m a mature grown-up now, and if you think otherwise you smell of poo. That’s why I sit closer to the TV than my mother would surely approve of when playing videogames and that, in turn, is why for a long time now I’ve had a designated Gaming Chair. This used to be a cheap, wonky, but perfectly serviceable office-style chair that swivelled (swivelled!). I eventually had to admit defeat when that broke, and relegated myself back to the sofa. Now however I’m using a ‘proper’ gaming chair; more specifically, the Xenta Pro E-400.
Gaming chair prices range from fifteen quid to hundreds of pounds, depending on how fancy they are. While some corners of the interweb seem to believe this particular one goes for about £200, a more likely and consistent RRP found elsewhere is £69.99. In fact at time of writing, ebuyer has it for £49.99. Cheaper than many other nerd cradles, then; but is it any good?
At about 16KG it isn’t difficult to move around (especially as it folds in half), although this would perhaps be best used as a permanent fixture in a gaming setup. With no wireless functions, you’ll need wires trailing from your console/computer to the chair if you want to take advantage of the built-in speakers (not to mention the cable for the chair’s power supply). It’s also worth noting that you can only have one machine hooked up to the chair at a time, meaning those who own multiple gaming platforms will have to be prepared to switch audio plugs around every time they play on a new machine.
In this Brave New World of high definition and 3D displays, you may well be wondering: Can I have this chair shout at me and use an HDMI cable? The answer is yes… unless you’re using an Xbox 360. While a PC or PS3 will allow you to divert the audio elsewhere while keeping your pin-sharp HDMI visuals, the 360 doesn’t allow users to do this. You can still have high definition graphics while using the chair’s speakers but, for a 360, you have no choice but to plump for a component cable.
But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. After all, a gaming chair is completely useless if it isn’t comfortable. The Xenta Pro E-400 has the same basic design as most other products of this type, in that it’s essentially a legless rocking chair that looks like it’s been ergonomically designed for a deformed dog of average size. I can confirm that (a) it doesn’t rock unless you want it to, and (b) despite being a human male precisely one smidgen under six feet tall rather than a dog suffering from agonising curvature of the spine, I’ve found it to be extremely comfortable over several days of use, and for play sessions ranging from 30 minutes to three hours.
Rather than being a permanent part of the unit, the cushion supporting your big fat head full of gaming knowledge is attached through use of a wonderful new invention known as velcro. Even when slapped on in the perfect position (and be sure not to put it on upside down, which is actually uncomfortable) the long-haired amongst you will need to be careful, as my seven year old daughter found out the hard way. Incidentally, my two eldest (seven and three) found the chair to be just as comfy as I did. In fact, as my kids will be using it now and again, I was pleased to find that the cover for said cushion is removable for easy washing. The covering for the main unit sadly is not however, and you are in fact warned against so much as thinking of taking it off, due to the electronic wizardry within.
Sit down on the chair a little too fast, and for a split second it feels as though the lining might rip. It never does (in my experience at least) though, being extremely well constructed from tough stuff. Best of all, the ‘breathable mesh’ does its job just as promised. No sweaty backs (or anything elses) from long gaming sessions here!
Now onto the speakers; one either side of your head, and a subwoofer somewhere in the belly of the beast. I’m not convinced that they deliver true stereo, not least because there’s no indication of which audio plug should go in which socket. They do provide a more intricate and subtle range of sounds than a TV set, though. This is more noticeable in terms of sound effects than music – for example, I found that it was easier to tell how close unseen enemies were in Resident Evil 6.
The most immediately noticeable difference between my TV speakers and the chair’s was bass. There are two sets of volume controls on the side, easily accessible while sitting down; ‘bass’ (self explanatory) and ‘volume’ (everything else).You certainly don’t get anything like the level of audio customisation you get with a stereo system, or even many CD players. Even at its lowest audible level, the bass rumbles beneath everything else in the way we’re all used to with movies at the cinema. Personally, I actually prefer the more subtle balance of my TV, and switching the bass off altogether just doesn’t sound right. I soon decided that the more richly textured sound was a decent trade-off for the ever-growling undertones, though.
If you’re the sort of person who likes their car stereo bass so deep it melts passing cats, though, you’ll love this chair. You can turn the bass here up so loud, should you so wish, that your teeth just about rattle around in your head (and the neighbours’) every time you fire a gun or rev a car engine. Of course, you could bypass the speakers and your TV entirely by taking advantage of the included headphone socket – if you wanted a particularly roundabout (though admittedly comfortable) way of using a pair of earphones.There’s also a ‘multiplayer’ bullet point for the box, whereby you link multiple chairs together. The chances of you actually doing this, of course, are rather slim.
The final feature of the chair is… a little pouch, again attached via the power of velcro. It’s unclear however what, exactly, you’re supposed to keep in there. It’s not long enough to accommodate my oversized TV remote, but you can get a couple of Wiimotes in there, or – just about – one PS3 or 360 controller. It’s far too small to hold even one game case, and it’s not designed to hold just discs either (which as it stands will sit in there rather awkwardly). I could use it for sweets I suppose, to make me feel even more awkward as I lounge in front of the TV while my neglected copy of UFC Trainer glares at me accusingly from its dusty corner.
Without a house crammed full of gaming chairs, I can’t really say how the Xenta Pro E-400 stacks up against the competition. I can however say that, despite a few niggles, I’m very pleased with it overall. Look at it this way: even at full price, it’s still over four times cheaper than the official Black Ops headset, and I doubt you can sit on that. Not more than once, anyway.