Microsoft Unveils Kinect For Xbox 360, A Controller-Free Gaming Device

Microsoft today unveiled Kinect for Xbox 360, a controller-free gaming device that Microsoft is positioning as an entirely new way to experience entertainment in the living room.

Previously code-named “Project Natal,” the Kinect label was released before the start of the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles (E3) as part of a Cirque du Soleil performance that was inspired by Kinect’s technology.

The slim black Kinect sensor plugs directly into any Xbox 360. Despite its small size, the Kinect device contains a camera, audio sensors, and motion-sensing technology that tracks 48 points of movement on the human body. It has the ability to recognize faces and voices.

With Kinect, game-players no longer need to memorize different commands for a hand-held control. “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.”

The Cirque du Soleil show at Los Angeles’s Galan Center included few specifics about Kinect. Instead, it focused on the new experiences that it will enable. Microsoft will share more details – including the release date, and some of Kinect’s initial game and entertainment offerings – at a Monday morning news conference that will kick off E3, the gaming industry’s annual show-and-tell event.

Marc Whitten, corporate vice president of Xbox LIVE, said 2010 could be the biggest year yet for Xbox. “It’s an amazing year just when you look at the things people are expecting,” he said. “But we’re excited to also be announcing ways that make it simpler for everyone to enjoy the things we do. People who are intimidated by a controller or game pad will finally get to unlock some of the experiences that are possible in the living room, gaming and non-gaming alike.”

Much more news is expected Monday, Delman said. He believes Kinect will help Xbox get closer to reaching its goal of becoming the hub of games and entertainment in every living room. But while hard-core gamers are and will remain the cornerstone of Xbox and Xbox LIVE, Microsoft wants to use Kinect to reach a broader, new audience.

There are upwards of 40 million Xbox 360 consoles on the market. Kinect could help significantly increase that number because it appeals to traditional non-gamers such as young children, mothers, and grandparents.

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