Microsoft Introduces Hands-Free Gaming

Project Natal eliminates the need for hand-held controllers.

June 2, 2009, 10:15 AM

June 2, 2009 — -- Xbox fans, get ready to can your controller.

Microsoft introduced Monday its highly anticipated, motion- and voice-sensing device that is one of the most technically advanced of its kind.

Code named Project Natal, Microsoft's new technology eliminates the need for a hand-held controlling mechanism.

Unlike the Nintendo Wii, which reads players' movements but requires participants to hold a controller or two, and recent so-called "touch" based interfaces such as those found on some PCs and, of course, on the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch, Project Natal requires nothing more than a human skeleton for interaction.

A player can make virtually any movement with the body and watch a virtual self mimic the movements on screen.

"It's not about re-inventing the wheel; it's about no wheel at all," said acclaimed director Steven Spielberg, who worked on the project and was on hand for the big announcement. "You can really change the paradigm of storytelling and social interaction."

Using a camera, depth sensor, microphone and processor, the technology recognizes voice commands, hand motions and users' faces. Once the system has created profiles for the different users, it will automatically log them on using facial recognition technology.

When you've had enough for the day, you can just tell the system "good night" and it will automatically turn itself off.

To show off the new technology, Microsoft demonstrated three new programs, including "Paint Party," an art program that uses the player's body as a brush.

Microsoft hopes it will allow for unparalleled opportunities to incorporate human movement and gestures into video games and beyond.

The company said it often uses cities as code names. For this project, the team leader chose Natal, a city along the northeastern coast of Brazil, as a tribute to his home country. He also knew that natal means "to be born" in Latin.

As part of the company's one-two punch, Xbox Live members will also able to access movies and other video with near-zero delay, allowing the roughly 20 million active users almost instant access to video on demand.

Xbox Live Members Join Facebook, Twitter

Those Xbox Live members will also be able to join the ranks of the tens of millions of social network junkies who use Facebook and Twitter to keep track of the world via the online network's interface.

The announcement comes a week after the Redmond, Calif.,-based company announced that sales of the Xbox 360 have exceeded 30 million units since its late 2005 release.

The popular Xbox Live network already connects 360 owners to other players, downloadable games and movies for a fee, but with the addition of "instant" streaming it now competes against the likes of set-top movie stores such as Roku and Apple TV, along with traditional brick-and-mortar establishments like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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