How badly do you want to stay connected to your game while you take a call? The RIG offers a clever but pricey solution.
By Tim Colwill on November 11, 2013 at 12:21 pm
Have you ever been gaming away with your headset on, when suddenly your goddamn phone rings, and you’ve got to quickly yank the headset off, jam the phone to your ear, angrily yell “Yes? What?” — and before the person who called you can even answer, you’ve just been shot in the head by some guy from across the map? Because you’re standing out in the open like an idiot, just begging for it?
Kind of a specific situation, isn’t it. Well, not so specific that Plantronics didn’t spend a bunch of time and money developing a solution for this exact scenario: something they call the ‘RIG’. No, it’s not an acronym, doesn’t stand for anything. It’s just a marketing thing.
“Games these days are high-stakes,” says Plantronics’ Josh Latendresse to me over a table at PAX Australia earlier this year, where I got the chance to look at the RIG before launch. “You can’t stop playing if you’re about crash the base of the enemy, or shooting down the nexus, or running out of tickets in Battlefield 2…”
Latendresse is the product manager for Plantronics gaming division, and he says that they’re finding the punishments for even seeming to abandon your game these days can be harsh. “Even if you’re playing casually with just nine other people, if you just go away from your game you can’t stop playing. You’ll get reported, potentially banned, lose your account, lose any money you’ve spent on the game.”
“We’ve all been playing these games for years and years. And the problem is… you’re ageing, you’ve got a real life, you’re gonna get a call from your girlfriend, your mum, your dad, your boss. What happens when that happens?”
If you’re using the RIG, the solution is simple. The RIG consists of a headset and mixer unit, which connects to your PC via an audio jack and a USB plug. You then plug the headset, and your phone (just a standard audio jack) into the mixer and you’re good to go. All you have to do is flip a switch on the mixer to bring the phone’s audio right into your headset and you can keep playing.
It’s not a magic fix: you still have to answer your phone and put it on speaker, so it will need to be somewhere nearby and, if there’s a lot of background noise in the room, that’ll come through on the phone’s speaker. But what the RIG does allow you to do is dynamically adjust the volume of game noise that comes through the call, depending on how much you want to stay in the game.
During my testing, I was pleased to find that the RIG functioned exactly as advertised. Upon getting a call, I simply hit the speaker button on my phone — a Samsung Galaxy S3, in case that’s important to anyone — and then flipped the RIG’s mixer switch over. Phone audio came loud and clear through the game audio, and when I was done, I just flipped it back over. It’s a deceptively simple solution, and because it’s all hardware-based, it works perfectly without requiring any wacky installs.
Ultimately though, everything that is special about the RIG boils down to the mixer itself. The headset which comes with the rig, while comfortable, is pretty much just another headset at the end of the day, and isn’t especially well made, especially visually appealing, or especially outstanding in any area. In fact, as long as you have a spare headset with a single four-pole 3.5 mm jack, you can replace the RIG’s standard headset entirely.
When I put this question to Latendresse, he was quick to point out that there weren’t many gaming headsets you could easily swap it for. “This is a more modern type of connector,” he said. “You’ll see this on Macs, on any iPhone connector, and that’s really the point of it — you want to be able to connect it to your phone when you go away from your desk.”
He didn’t deny, though, that it was possible — and why would you? By making their solution entirely hardware based, Plantronics have opened themselves up to the possibility that people might not want to use their bundled headset and, in the world of PC gaming, being able to mix and match components is a good selling point. Plus, if the mixer unit breaks, Latendresse assures me that they’ll be selling replacements online.
The headset is connected to the mixer unit via a ribbon cord, which is an interesting choice but one that pays off, as any braided cord would have tangled up like crazy before now. The cord itself plugs directly into the boom microphone, which is a seperate unit and can be detached from the headset and replaced with a smaller, boom-free cord (with what Plantronics call a “stealth mic”) for when you want to use the headphones on the go.
As far as sound quality goes, the RIG headset boasts 40mm drivers, which deliver good, rich sound, but they lack the power of similar, 50mm driver headsets we’ve reviewed here in the past. They’re comfortable, and easy sustained 8+ hours of consecutive wear at the games.on.net desk, and the construction is much more solid than other brands on the market.
But, and I cannot lie — they’re still nothing special. And at AUD$149 (that’s RRP), you’re sacrificing the sort of virtual surround sound or wireless play that you could possibly be grabbing at that price, just in order to make sure that you can take calls while you play. This makes the RIG a sort of niche-product for what is probably set to be an increasingly common problem, which is a weird position to be in. I asked Latendresse about that, and about the thorny issue of the Australian tech pricing gouge.
“It’s $129 in the US, but we don’t include tax,” says Latendresse. “There’s an exchange rate at work as well. It’s a lower margin for us here in Australia. We’re pretty aggressive on this product.”
“This is the first product in the RIG family, there will be higher technologies to come. But this is what we call ‘entry-level premium’ — it’s got a heck of a lot more features than our standard Gamescom line, it’s multiplatform, it’s mobile. We think it’s tremendous value.”
As for me, I think the RIG is an elegant first-pass solution for an emerging problem — but one that might struggle to find a home in the current market. Perhaps sold on its own as a separate mixer unit, the RIG might do well, but as it stands this is something I can only honestly recommend if you a) are, actually, continually frustrated by having to pause your game to take calls, or b) enjoy fiddling around with gadgets.
- Clever hardware solution enables instant, easy switching
- Plug and play, no drivers required
- Comfortable headset, good sound quality
- Kind of expensive for what it does
- Headset isn’t anything to write home about
The Plantronics RIG is available in both black and white versions, and retails for around $149 AUD at places like EB Games, but you can get it for around $124 at other retailers.
This review unit supplied by Plantronics.