We've known for months that Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing camera technology would make its way to Windows. But now we also know that Kinect on Windows won't use the same hardware as Kinect for the Xbox 360 video game system.
"Since announcing a few weeks ago that the Kinect for Windows commercial program will launch in early 2012, we've been asked whether there will also be new Kinect hardware especially for Windows," Craig Eisler, the general manager of the Kinect for Windows team, wrote in a company blog post. "The answer is yes; building on the existing Kinect for Xbox 360 device, we have optimized certain hardware components and made firmware adjustments which better enable PC-centric scenarios."
Kinect for Windows will also get its own Software Development Kit to make use of the PC-specific hardware that will deliver features and capabilities unique to the stalwart operating system, Eisler said.
So how will the Kinect for Windows differ from the Xbox hardware?
"Simple changes include shortening the USB cable to ensure reliability across a broad range of computers and the inclusion of a small dongle to improve coexistence with other USB peripherals," he said. "Of particular interest to developers will be the new firmware which enables the depth camera to see objects as close as 50 centimeters in front of the device without losing accuracy or precision, with graceful degradation down to 40 centimeters."
With the new hardware being able to see people at a closer range, Kinect for Windows will be able to be used in a wider range of environments than the Kinect for Xbox, which was designed for living rooms with wide open spaces for people to jump and move around to play games without a controller.
This so-called Near Mode was "one of the most requested features from the many developers and companies participating in our Kinect for Windows pilot program and folks commenting on our forums, and we're pleased to deliver this, and more, at launch," Eisler said.
As to when Kinect for Windows will arrive in stores, Microsoft hasn't said just yet. The current Kinect for Windows SDK is built for Windows 7, but Windows 8 is set for release sometime next year.
But it seems that the company's ambition for Kinect might extend beyond the Xbox and PCs and into TVs, according to the News Corp.-owned digital magazine, the Daily.
"Sources familiar with the subject told the Daily that the tech giant wants to aggressively push the Kinect into as many living rooms as possible, even those without its Xbox 360 gaming systems," wrote Matt Hickey, a reporter for the Daily. "Microsoft is said to be in the early stages of licensing its Kinect technology to television hardware manufacturers like Vizio and Sony."
If Microsoft were to add its motion-sensing Kinect technology into TV sets, using gestures to control the TV rather than a remote, it would place the firm in competition with Google TV and Apple's rumored eventual entry into the TV market.
If this all plays out, our living rooms and our office spaces will probably get a lot more interesting (with a lot more waving hands and arms to be seen) in the next couple of years.
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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: Children try out a video game that uses Microsoft's Kinect for Xbox 360 motion-sensing camera at a media event Oct. 18, 2011 in New York. Credit: Jason DeCrow / Associated Press Images for Microsoft