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Waving Not Drowning: PC Kinect In Feb

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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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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