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Up close with Razer Hydra motion controls for Valve's Portal 2 game (video)

Microsoft’s Kinect motion control technology has proven a big success, but a competing technology called Sixense boasting some advantages over Kinect will hit the market via its partners in April.

The Sixense TrueMotion technology, under development for some time, uses a magnetic field to detect your movements as you wave wireless controllers around the air to control a game. That lets it detect any of your movements, and it doesn’t have to rely on line-of-sight from cameras, giving it a leg up on the Kinect technology in this regard.

The TrueMotion technology, made by Sixense Entertainment, will be used within a licensed product, the Razer Hydra, and packaged with Valve’s Portal 2 game in a special bundle due in April.

The system has a base magnet that connects to your game PC and a couple of handheld controllers that you use to maneuver through the game. The net result is that it gives a player “six degrees of freedom” for controlling a game. In that sense, it’s a lot like Sony’s Move controllers for the PlayStation 3. The price of the Hydra is expected to be under $100 but isn’t final yet.

Jeff Bellinghausen, chief technology officer at Sixense, demonstrated the wireless version of the system with Intel executive Mooly Eden at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. (See the first video below). The Hydra comes off the heels of Microsoft’s success with the Kinect motion control system for the Xbox 360, which has shipped 8 million units to retailers in its first 60 days on the market, much of that selling through to consumers.

Meanwhile, I also caught up with Sixense’s demo guy Josh Bays at the Samsung booth, where he gave me a demo of a tricky level of Portal 2. In that level (in the second video below), Josh used the wired version of the Razer Hydra (which is perceived to be faster by gamers) to pick up items such as a box and stretch them, using hand gestures.

Other companies are capturing motion using 3-D webcams. With its magnet technology, though, Sixense has taken a different route. The Los Gatos, Calif.-based company led by Amir Rubin, uses a regular magnet, not an electromagnet, so it won’t wipe out the hard disk on your Tivo video recorder. But it can detect movement in a 12-foot radius around a base gadget. A 3-D webcam, such as what Microsoft will use in its Kinect gesture control system for the Xbox 360, can capture any movement it sees. It can capture your whole body movement, but it won’t capture anything that is obscured by an object. So if you put your hand behind your back, the Natal cameras won’t detect that movement. Also, you don’t have to calibrate a Sixense controller, whereas you do with the Wii, which uses accelerometers and infrared detectors to determine its position.

The Sixense control system can only detect what you’re holding in your hand, but it can accurately track whatever you do with that controller, even if it passes out of the line of sight. The Sixense controllers also have analog pads that you can move in lieu of twisting your wrist. So if you’re turning around in a game, you don’t have to turn your wrist at odd angles.

The controllers can be tuned to handle any type of gesture or game. For instance, when you are moving slowly and pointing at something on the screen, the controller will filter out the shaking of your hand so that the pointing will be steady. When you are holding a katana (sword) in your hand, there is no filtering because it needs to capture your movement at high speed. In a shooting game, you could do blind fire, meaning you could point your gun around a corner and shoot wildly without exposing yourself.


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