In a multi-million-dollar extravaganza complete with Hollywood celebrities and a private performance by the world-famous Cirque du Soleil, Microsoft today unveiled "Kinect," its latest technological creation for game systems, at the Galen Center in Los Angeles.
Kinect recognizes player's movements and voices, and enables users to interact with their existing Xbox 360s and some games without a handheld controller.
"You are the controller," said Mike Delman, corporate vice president of Global Marketing for the Interactive Entertainment Business. "You simply step in front of the sensor and Kinect sees you move, hears your voice and recognizes your face."
Using full body motion capture, voice recognition and facial recognition, the device offers a new level of interaction that goes beyond immersive motion-controlled video games.
Facial and voice recognition will allow users to log into their Xbox LIVE accounts without ever pressing a button, and interacting with the system's interface can be done with a wave of the hand. Think "Minority Report" without the gloves (and psychics).
At a press conference Monday, Microsoft announced that Kinect would be available Nov. 4, with 15 launch titles. One game, Kinectimals, lets users pretend to train some of the world's most exotic animals, such as Bengal tigers. Another fitness game, called Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, guides users through various exercises, using the motion capture feature to give users feedback on each move. The company did not disclose a price for the new hands-free gaming device.
Microsoft also announced Monday that it would start shipping a newer, sleeker version of the Xbox today. The new Xbox includes a 250 GB hard drive and built-in Wi-Fi. It will cost $299, the same price as the current Xbox.
ESPN personalities Trey Wingo and Josh Elliot were also on hand to unveil a new Xbox tie-in.
Through Xbox, sports fans will be able to watch 3,500 live and on-demand sporting events.
"ESPN is being redefined on Xbox," Wingo said.
Microsoft's event comes just one day before the start of the 2010 E3, (Electronic Entertainment Expo), and one year after an early version of Kinect was first revealed to the industry and members of the press as "Project Natal".
Last year, acclaimed director Steven Spielberg, who worked on the project with Microsoft, was on hand for the big announcement.
"It's not about re-inventing the wheel. It's about no wheel at all," he said at the technology's debut last year. "You can really change the paradigm of storytelling and social interaction."
Microsoft hopes it will allow for new opportunities to incorporate human movement and gestures into video games and beyond.
In Sunday's demonstration, Microsoft highlighted active family gaming with a river rafting game that mandates jumping and leaning to control a raft, a decathalon where running in place controls speed, and a dancing game where players replicate choreographed moves to accumulate points. A "Star Wars" game was demonstrated where players fight Darth Vader with a light saber.
Targeting moms as both the decision makers about gaming for younger children and new entries into gaming, the Kinect system features a yoga instruction that analyzes participants form and gives feedback when poses are correct.
Kinect is an add-on to the XBox 360 console, and pricing and availability have not yet been announced.