Microsoft once again demonstrated its motion-controlled video game interface at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). It also announced a new version of its Xbox 360 gaming console.
Project Natal, said Microsoft will now be known by its new official name: “Kinect.”
The Kinect is an array of sensors that will plug into any Xbox 360, a design that could be interpreted as a bid to lengthen the lifespan of the aging line of consoles.
The new Xbox is colored black and is smaller than the original model. It features a 250 GB hard drive as well as built-in WiFi.
Microsoft demonstrated the Kinect Sunday as part of a performance by the acrobatic troupe Cirque du Soleil at the Galen Center, an indoor arena in Los Angeles, Calif.
The slim, black device plugs directly into any Xbox 360, Microsoft said. It contains a camera, audio sensors and motion-sensing technology that tracks 48 points of movement on the human body.
The Kinect can reportedly perform full-motion tracking of the human body at 30 frames per second.
It apparently isn’t affected by what a user is wearing or by the surroundings, including furniture. It can even recognize people’s faces and voices, Microsoft said.
The device uses facial and voice recognition technology to log users on automatically, start games and pause movies. Users can reach out and point in mid-air to select an option.
Back in Black
Microsoft described its newer, slimmer Xbox 360 model as “whisper quiet.” The console features built-in WiFi N capabilities. Earlier models required the user to buy a WiFi adapter at an additional cost.
The package is expected to go on sale later this week and will include the console, a wireless controller, a headset and a built-in 250 GB hard drive. Pricing is set at $299.99.
About the Kinect
The Kinect will arrive Nov. 4, according to Microsoft. The company did not name a price, but rumors hold that there may be two versions of Kinect, with the more expensive one coming in at US$189.
Microsoft’s believed to be aiming at reviving the Xbox 360’s fortunes with the Kinect. In April, it discontinued Xbox Live support for all original Xbox titles because it planned to evolve the service to harness the full power of the gaming console.
“There are upwards of 40 million Xbox 360 consoles on the market,” Microsoft pointed out. “Kinect could help significantly increase that number because it appeals to traditional non-gamers such as young children, mothers and grandparents.”
That plan might just work.
“This comes on top of an aging game platform, but there isn’t much major stuff going on in this segment at the moment, and there are a lot of Xboxes installed and in use,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.
“While the Kinect may not expand Microsoft’s share of the gaming market by much, it could sell very well into the existing Xbox installed base if there are one or more compelling related game titles,” Enderle said.
Microsoft named several titles that developers are planning for the Kinect, including “Kinect Adventures,” “Kinect Sports,” “Dance Central” and “Your Shape: Fitness Evolved.”
Battling for Market Share
The Kinect may bring a new method of control to Xbox 360 games, but it does nothing to bring Microsoft’s console into the Blu-ray fold, an advantage that still belongs to its rival, pointed out Andrew Eisner, director of community and content at Retrevo.
“Microsoft’s a strong Number Two in the game market behind the Nintendo Wii, but it stuck with HD-DVD instead of Blu-ray, and so it lost that DVD format war. The Sony PlayStation ties in with Blu-ray, and Microsoft doesn’t seem to want to do that,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“The Kinect could be what the gaming industry needs to become trendy and exciting again,” Enderle said. “Still, it’s effectively running up against Apple now in terms of competing for the user’s pocket.”
Over time, the market potential for Kinect will expand “significantly” because the device will also work with Windows, Enderle predicted.
Sales of video game software and hardware plunged in April, falling 26 percent on the whole. This was the industry’s fourth-worst year-over-year decline.
Expanding the Market
However, the Kinect’s real impact may be felt outside of the video games market.
“Everybody’s focusing on the game market, and that’s a big market, but the potential for a controller-less interface for TV and general computing is very interesting,” Retrevo’s Eisner pointed out.
“A remoteless interface could actually make sense there so, if Microsoft could develop the Kinect as a product for the living room — not only for the game machine but for controlling the connected TV — it might make a lot of sense,” Eisner said.