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Tech Report - Project Natal
Last week saw the re-emergence of E3 as the video game industry’s flagship event. After a couple of years in the doldrums, this year’s event at the Los Angeles Convention Center was packed with innovative technology and amazing new games from everyone from the industry leaders through to the smallest start-up.
One truly ground-breaking project that got everyone’s attention was a motion-capture camera for the Xbox 360 that Microsoft is currently calling Project Natal. Natal, which looks like a rectangular bar that sits above or below your TV, can track your body's movements in three dimensions, thus eliminating the need for a game controller. Or as Don Mattrick, the senior VP at Xbox, put it, "We're using the best controller ever invented: you."
Natal is Microsoft's response to Nintendo's extremely successful Wii, which revolutionized video gaming when it introduced the first motion controller back in 2005. Natal promises to trump the Wii in a couple of ways. First, Natal utilizes face recognition – you simply stand in front of your TV, and Natal will figure out who you are and sign you in. Second, Natal features voice recognition, so you can use verbal commands to do everything from playing a movie (simply say "play movie") to having a conversation with a virtual character.
Check out the demo video from Microsoft and get a taste of what possible.
With inventions such as Natal, we're quickly approaching a future in which humans can partake in a virtual experience that's nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. And then we'll be faced with intriguing decisions: If a skateboarding video game requires the same body movements as actual skateboarding, why not simply go outside and ride a skateboard? If you can have an authentic conversation with a virtual person, will we still need to nurture actual relationships?
For now, Microsoft's Natal has made quite an impression. There's no word yet on when the device will be available or how much it'll cost, but it will be compatible with every existing Xbox 360 system.
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