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Microsoft's gesture-based game control to debut in 2010

Rumors are rife that Microsoft will introduce the gesture-based game control system we wrote about earlier this year at the E3 show in Los Angeles in June.

We hear the same thing, as far as the announcement goes. But we also believe that Microsoft will not actually introduce the system to Xbox 360 consumers until the fall of 2010. That’s a long way off, which means it may take Microsoft a sum total of four years to come up with a formal reaction to Nintendo’s Wii controller.

The Wall Street Journal wrote a story today saying Microsoft is working on a video camera control system. It’s actually not a video camera in the traditional sense. It’s a depth camera that can precisely determine the position and movement of an object based on how close it is to the camera. The camera’s shutter moves extremely fast, capturing positional data many times a second. And it only captures images in black and white, with the lighter objects close and the darker objects in the distance. By contrast, Sony’s EyeToy uses a 2-D camera detection system.

Microsoft declined to comment. But we know what it’s working on because that’s what 3DV Systems of Israel said it was working on in the fall of 2007, and Microsoft secretly bought 3DV earlier this year (for a relatively low price of about $35 million). There is a problem with the technology. The cameras were very expensive in the past, and 3DV’s goal was to bring the cost under $100. My guess is that Microsoft is waiting until 2010 to introduce the control system to bring the costs down. On top of that, game developers need time to create games that make use of the new controller.

Canesta, another maker of a 3-D motion-tracking camera, uses a different kind of system to detect position and movement but at a lower cost, said Jim Spare, chief executive of the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company. We’ve written about other gesture control companies here.

Microsoft’s system is likely to be far more accurate than Nintendo’s Wii controller, which uses a combination of infrared detectors and accelerometers (motion acceleration sensors) to detect and fix movement. Nintendo is introducing the Wii MotionPlus this summer, adding gyroscope chips that can capture a twist of the wrist and other types of movement. If Microsoft really isn’t going to get this system out until 2010, it represents a relatively small threat to Nintendo. In video games, timing is everything.

Even so, it’s going to be very exciting to be able, at some point, to control a game without a game controller in your hands. Based on demos I’ve tried, I can say it’s a much more natural game experience.


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