Waving Not Drowning: PC Kinect In Feb

By Alec Meer on January 10th, 2012 at 11:05 am.

Oh god it's looking at me again, make it stop, make it stoooooooop

With the tile-based facepalming of Windows 8 slowly slouching this way, Microsoft used its CES conference last night to reveal assorted PC-related shenanigans. One of the more interesting – in theory – is a new version of its Kinect motion camera thinger, designed specifically for PC rather than Xbox.

Now, Kinect has been usable on PC for a while now, thanks to the release of an official SDK (and before that, the efforts of industrious modders), but it’s not really been suited to the platform despite amazing third-party experiments. I got hold of a camera, intending to try out a whole bunch of ambitious PC game-ettes with it, but immediately fell foul of the camera’s inability to recognise anything that was less than three kilometres away from it. So it is that I have a large and increasingly oblong of plastic that I simply can’t use in the tiny boxroom I refer to as my ‘study’ when trying to convince grown-ups that I have a respectable life.

The new Kinect, though, features something called ‘Near Mode’, which is because it’s been specifically designed to work with a PC, and all the myopic hunching over desks that entails, instead of standing at the back of a living room and flapping your stupid arms about. The new one can do its shtick from as close as 50cm away, apparently. Further details on that here, though it sounds like it’s achieved via a combination of new firmware and, uh, a shorter USB cable. “Of particular interest to developers”, quoth the Softian Micro, “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.”

The new Kinect will arrive on February 1, as revealed last by Microsoft’s Ogre-King Steve Ballmer, and will carry an RRP of $249. Which will probably FOR GOD’S SAKES translate to £200-250 FOR GOD’S SAKES, I guess. Which means, even aside from any egregiously unfair currency conversion, it’s significantly more expensive than the $150 Xbox Kinect. MS claim this is because that one is basically subsidised by game purchases, whereas the new one will be a kind of ongoing experiment in PC control, with new features and software coming from both them and assorted developers. No specific word on what that software will be yet – a big part of it is the Windows 8 UI, but it seems silly not to expect games too, given the camera’s origins.

MS will at least make/keep the SDK free so developers can run off and do their own things with it, but the big huge issue is if enough people will want to buy a $250 camera to support these initiatives. Maybe someone will hack the 360 Kinect to work with the new PC SDK and come up with an approximation of Near Mode, so we can all buy the cheaper model instead.

So, only a tangential games link for now, but I admit I am curious as to how this thing could work with games played from the standard PC sitting position. RTS gesturing and ordering could work pretty well in theory; maybe they should have a chat with EA about the new C&C.

More (rather dry) details here. Not very lively, so let’s remind ourselves just how excitable Microsoft can be:

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86 Comments »

  1. Khemm says:

    WALL-E!!!

  2. pakoito says:

    The Near Mode is achieved by a newer camera that probably doesn’t cost the 100$ but still it is a much needed feature.

  3. simoroth says:

    Just in case anyone is interested, the cost of the components to build a Kinect is £23. So after labour only a very small markup. ;)

  4. Kaira- says:

    This will be mighty interesting to see what people can come up with proper tools. I’ve been pondering myself about getting this at some point, just for doing some testing (maybe hacking XBMC to be controlled via handwaving?). Anyway, I don’t really see how this could easily be translated for controlling traditional PC games, although it wouldn’t be the first time when something new actually storms over and brings something new and good to the table.

    • Khemm says:

      I can imagine it being useful for flying sims or ArmA 2 for head tracking. Something like TrackIR.

    • bear912 says:

      My hunch is that you’re probably just better off using TrackIR for things like that…

    • ankh says:

      If you can get kinect to work with XBMC please publish a how-to guide somewhere. That’s a really good idea. No more looking for input devices cause YOU ARE THE INPUT DEVICE! Nice.

    • soldant says:

      @bear912: if they can get it to reliably track my head without having to wear reflective stickers or IR LEDs then I’d gladly ditch my TrackIR.

    • bear912 says:

      @soldant: That’s probably going to be the issue. I could be wrong, though. What little I’ve seen done with the Kinect API has seemed like it probably wouldn’t provide the kind of precision data that something like that would require, and that’s what I’m basing my assumptions off of.

    • Bremze says:

      Screw head tracking, I want eye movement tracking!

    • Joshua says:

      @Bear.

      The TrackIR having the downside of being horribly expensive and just made for that specific goal, whilst the Kinect will probably be used for a lot of other things then that.

    • Zenicetus says:

      @ Joshua: TrackIR is pricey and only does one thing, true, but it does that one thing very well. Especially with the active LED clip so the camera ignores the background. My first thought when I read the OP was that it might be a cool replacement for TrackIR, but it would have to be equally smooth and dependable, and I don’t know if the tech is that good yet. I’ve heard about lag in the Xbox version, and that wouldn’t be acceptable for flight sim head tracking.

      On the positive side… If it does work well enough, and if someone can write a driver that makes Kinect input look like TrackIR input to a game, then it means there are already existing games that would support it.

    • JiminyJickers says:

      @Soldant

      Try FaceTrackNoIR, it works a treat without having to wear any IR things.

      The latest version 1.6 is quite good and its completely free. All you need is a decent Webcam. I use a PS3 Eye camera on my PC and the whole setup works quite well for Arma II and DCS A-10.

      Check it out at http://facetracknoir.sourceforge.net/home/default.htm

    • vecordae says:

      I’d kind of like to see gesture-based controls added in for slower-paced games and sims. It’d be nice bit of immersion to be able to gesture at one of the controls in your fighter/giant robot’s cockpit to activate it, rather than hunting for the keyboard shortcut or letting go of the joystick and switching to the mouse in order to do the same.

  5. UnravThreads says:

    developers developers developers developers developers developers and so on.

  6. bobiroka says:

    Kinect is the antithesis of PC Gaming. The end.

    • Meat Circus says:

      Kinect PC will prove to be the most fun way of making Metro bearable on the PC desktop. A summer of early-adopters waving at their PCs like idiots ensues.

      The future arrives. THE BEGINNING.

    • Monchberter says:

      I dunno.

      Think about how something like Left 4 Dead 2 is built on player feedback to dynamically change the way the game plays. I know valve already do a lot of testing with bio feedback, but you could use Kinect to collect data from the player, as in how nervous their movements are, whether you’re gritting your teeth, blinking a lot, then all that’s important info that could change the game to be better suited to match your experience.

      I can see clever devs such as Valve jumping on this to make their games better.

      Also – I bet you’ll be able to turn off Metro in Windows 8 should you wish, leaving you with a slightly more up to date Windows 7?

      Windows 8′s starting to look like what the Cryengine 3 is to the Cryengine 2 (as in better resource management and can run on slower systems such as phones and tablets)

    • sneetch says:

      @Monchberter
      “as in how nervous their movements are, whether you’re gritting your teeth, blinking a lot, then all that’s important info that could change the game to be better suited to match your experience.”

      I’m not sure how much of that Kinect is actually capable of doing. It has facial recognition but can it actually detect that kind of information and interpret it correctly? It has problems with detecting faces due to peoples expression changing their faces too much as is so maybe it can. And, in fairness (but a little off the point), the “scares” in L4D drop off after a few games and it largely becomes “just” another shooter (although a very fun one) with a variable spawn rate and (somewhat) variable spawn locations the whole AI director thing is a bit overblown IMO.

      Personally, I don’t see developers spending all that much time on Kinect until it has both a large install base (selling it at $250? Erm…) and some useful functionality, for traditional games all I can see is head-tracking (which will be great, but not $250 great) as your hands will be on the keyboard and mouse.

    • Navagon says:

      I don’t think that gaming is what will make kinect interesting on PC. People have already done some cool things with the tech. Once it has official PC support that should only increase.

  7. roryok says:

    Nice poetic reference.

  8. TheWhippetLord says:

    Other than an awesome gesture only cricket umpiring game (in the vein of Dickie Bird) I can see gestures being useful to trigger MMO chat macros. “Hello!” “All is going well.” “You are a w**ker.”

    If widely adopted it could also encourage an epidemic of desk-tidying amongst slovenly trogledytes like myself – any gestures would currently result in stacks of books etc going everywhere.

  9. roryok says:

    I only used the Xbox version once and I found it quite laggy, so I’m not convinced it’ll really be all that good for fast paced games.

    On a related note, there’s a cool HL2 facetracking mod that lets you control things by tilting your head, moving towards / away from the screen etc.

    http://torbensko.com/

  10. Roshin says:

    Steve, “I love this companyyYYEEAARRRGGGHHH” is technically five words, not four.

  11. sneetch says:

    Oh, this could be interesting to try out when someone actually creates some software worth hav- “an RRP of $249″. Ah, I see, never mind so.

    There are far, far, far too few useful applications that I can think of on PC to justify that insane cost, especially given that a) I normally use mine sitting at a desk, b) they still don’t have any voice recognition for Ireland and, of course, c) Kinect is not actually even needed for voice recognition, a microphone is all you need.

    Ah, they’ve apparently added support, in the last month or so I’d say (about a year after they said they would but better late than never).

  12. pyjamarama says:

    You guys are reading this wrong, this is not for bringging Kinect games to the PC. The current SDK available was only for non commercial use, with the new kit for windows a commercial license for the SDK is included, so this is for company’s that want to deploy some custom commercial applications that uses Kinect and the Microsoft SDK, the 100$ difference is mainly for the commercial license is not clear that there is a significant difference in the hardware.
    Of course there are already a lot of open source SDK and you can buy the regular xbox Kinect for 150$ and use in your PC.

  13. Chorltonwheelie says:

    Bobbins for games.
    However, gesture based control of Windows 8 tiles and Media Center without having to get up and place jammy fingers on a new £500 touchscreen…. Hmmmmm?

  14. AmateurScience says:

    Really can’t see this being particularly useful as a gaming device. However, as a general UI I’d definitely be more interested in hand gesture and voice command than a touch display on a desktop computer. But not for $250. I could almost buy my own ship for that.

  15. SirKicksalot says:

    There will be a “student version” for 150 dollars later this year, according to Eurogamer.
    I can’t wait to own one.
    Watch this TED video about the future of the UI: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6YTQJVzwlI

  16. Ovno says:

    I always loved the title of that track…

  17. hellboy says:

    $250 = experiment failed!

    • SquidgyB says:

      When the MkI kinect came out I remember engadget or another site worked out that (in basic parts) it cost ~£30 to put one together. I know a lot of other costs go into making something like this, but that kind of margin is a bit unforgivable.

      Reminds me of the TrackIR head tracking kit – I can (and have) make a fully functional one (using open/free software) with a few LEDs and a webcam for a tenner.

      I do wish companies would realise that makin’ ‘em cheap so everyone has one works much better in the long run…

    • vecordae says:

      @SquidgyB

      While I cannot comment specifically as to what was going on with the Kinect’s development, I do know that it, often, isn’t that easy and the markups aren’t always as nonsensical as one might think.

      Sure, the parts may only cost 30 quid, but you also need to pay for the development of both the hardware and software, the writing of the documentation to go with it, patents, lawyers for licensing agreements, someone to design the packaging, the packaging itself, loss via theft, returns and refunds, ongoing technical support and the subsequent support personnel, coders to improve upon the original software, shipping the product to the store, marketing, and the store’s markup on what the producer of the product charges them. By the time all is said and done, it’s very likely that 30 quid in hardware will result in a 250 quid tag without the company necessarily wanting to price gouge you.

  18. RaveTurned says:

    Probably as much for the robotics innovators as for the gamers. Must be useful to have mass-produced near distance optical sensors that can be used in commercial projects.

  19. LieutLaww says:

    it costs more because if you look at the Kinect for Windows box its says For Commercial Use so its aimed at developers and not the masses even though you can still you it

  20. InternetBatman says:

    I wonder how long it will be until a third party component hooks up to the Kinect SDK (or does one already exist)? You would think that tracking cameras would be significantly cheaper, and you could do cool things with clusters of them.

  21. CaspianRoach says:

    A controller without tactile feedback and with a response lag is not a controller I would prefer to use to enjoy my games.

    Novelty dies off pretty quickly and all you’re left with is an inferior method of a control over the one you already have. Even the gamepad is easier to control the games with.

    It is pretty enjoyable for the loud fun multiplayer alcohol-related party games, but for a more serious experience it doesn’t hold a candle to tactile feedback-enabled controllers.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Instead of using it as the primary controller, imagine it adding an extra input dimension to the controls that already exist. I imagine most of the software made right now will use it poorly, much like the wii before it, but potentials for synthesis are there.

  22. FCA says:

    Of course, Kinect is the
    streamlining of the future!

  23. jon_hill987 says:

    This was inevitable really, what with the Metro UI clearly not suited to anything else (lets face it, no one wants a touch screen on a desktop, you would have to clean it every five minutes if you wanted to see anything). I do have another idea for an input device for controlling a PC, it sounds strange, but bare with me I think it will work. You could have a lump of plastic which you move around on your desk, you will be able to do this very accurately as you are moving a physical object and the movement will be mapped to movement of a pointer on the screen. There will be buttons on this lump of plastic so when your pointer is above an object you want to interact with you can press the appropriate button, this will also eliminate the need for complex gestures or even “swipes” to control the UI as everything will be done with selectable objects on the screen. I think I will call it “the device for pointing at things on a screen that is on your desk”. Of course it will mean that Microsoft will have to completely redesign Windows 8 to take advantage of this new device…

    • Monchberter says:

      Also, Windows 7 already includes half-decent (but far from perfect) voice activation. If they’re going to make Kinect work, then they better consider that talking to your pc is probably less labour intensive than actually waving around.

    • Durkonkell says:

      “…a lump of plastic which you move around on your desk…”

      It’ll never catch on, I tell you.

    • vecordae says:

      Buttons? BUTTONS? Fie, I say! Give it ONE button and market it to the upscale artsy crowd.

  24. tigershuffle says:

    been an enlightened sort (henpecked father) I actually bought the Kinect last week *cough*for the kids*cough*.
    £99 with Fifa12 and Battlefield 3!!

    It is a bit laggy……but what suprised me most was the amount of room required ….you really need at least 8-10 feet!!! from the sensor for most games.
    There is no way in hell that kid in the photo is playing…..he needs to be at least 4 feet further back ;)

    cant see the majority of PC users (hunched over keboards in a darkened room elf slapping) making use of em

  25. Kleppy says:

    This Ballmer fellow is certainly excitable.

  26. Hoaxfish says:

    always reminds me of this from Father Ted: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25N-4zrk390#t=31s

  27. Zarx says:

    Is there a good Kinect mod for Black & White yet?

  28. vivlo says:

    fun fact :

    “Updated: MS deny plans to release Kinect beyond the 360 – see below.”

    from this RPS article : http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/01/04/more-kinectyhacks-world-of-wavecraft/

  29. Roshin says:

    If anyone can figure out how to use it with porn, then it’s an instant hit.

  30. pipman3000 says:

    like we would ever want a filthy console paraphernalia to taint the pc

  31. Author X says:

    Hey, Microsoft. And/or Kinect mod developers. I already have a Kinect and have used it with some PC mods, as well as the 360 dashboard and games. So I ask you, instead of buying a brand new camera set-up – can I just pay you $250 to be able to use voice commands in games without motion controls? Pretty please? That’s really all I want from Kinect any more.

    Edit: On second thought, hand-tracking with open-closed gestures would also be acceptable. You know, so I can feel like I’m actually an evolved being interacting with technology with my complex, opposable digits instead of an awkward stick-figure monster that can only point with my stump-ended arms and wait for my computer/console to be absolutely sure I’m pointing where I mean to be pointing.

  32. shoptroll says:

    Hardware subsidies notwithstanding, I’d love to know who decided pricing this around the same price at the shallow end of the high end GPU pool. Seriously, $250 could get you a lot better kit. Or, another $50 would get you a 4GB 360 + Kinect.

    This is going to flop and will be used as another “PC is dying lol” argument.

    Thanks again MS.

  33. MythArcana says:

    Windows 7 x64 was the highest level of tardom I was willing to accept. There is no way I’m going to trump that level of idiocy by installing a cell phone OS on my desktop.

    With all the R&D funds Microsoft has behind them, they are certainly pumping out mountains of useless shit since XP.

  34. rei says:

    I could swear that’s the second Stevie Smith reference on this site. Was it you the first time around too Alec?

  35. Weed says:

    I can see where head tracking and use with multiple monitors would be an advantage with flight sims, racing sims, etc. And I am sure there are a dozen other ways to use this tech with other types of games.

    Aren’t devs already incorporating tablet PCs and iPads to coexist (work in conjunction) with desktop games. Moving the cockpit controls, dash settings, etc. to the tablets and leaving the monitor to the “view screen.”

    A Kinnect would lend immersion, I would think, as long as it works.

  36. Iskariot says:

    249 bucks buys me whole bunch of great PC games that do not need kinect at all.
    I can not think of any reason to spent money on kinect. I would not even buy it for 50 bucks.

    • vecordae says:

      You’re just missing the amazing potential here. The kinect camera can, in theory, record 3D video. Why, if these things take off, imagine how much more immersive chatroulette will become! Nothing says “the future!” quite like internet pervert dong popping at you in glorious 3D.

    • Iskariot says:

      You’ve convinced me :) .

  37. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    Johnny 5 is back… and he’s pissed off.

  38. Isometric says:

    Love the orbital headline reference :)

  39. pingu666 says:

    if you just want voice control, you could give glovepie a try

  40. DOLBYdigital says:

    Personally I don’t really like using hand motions for any kind of UI that I’ve seen yet. I just don’t like having to hold my hands out in the air to do something, especially for any extended period of time. The reason I actually like the Wiimote is because you an rest it on your leg just like a controller but still get the precision of the IR pointer.

    However I never doubt the innovative/creative juices of modders. The modding scene is always at the forefront of truly new and risky ideas so I’m sure they will come up with some cool stuff :)

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