Kinect, formally called Project Natal, is a "controller-free gaming and entertainment experience" by Microsoft for the Xbox 360 video game platform. Based on an add-on peripheral for the Xbox 360 console, Kinect enables users to control and interact with the Xbox 360 without the need of a game controller, through gestures, spoken commands, or presented objects and images. The project is aimed at broadening the Xbox 360's audience beyond its typically hardcore base. Project Natal was first announced on June 1 at the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo. Microsoft said that over 1000 development kits began shipping to game developers that same day. The official release date for Kinect was announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2010 Kinect was released on November 4th, 2010 with the price is $149.99+tax for the device and Kinect Adventures.
An approximately nine-inch (23 cm) wide horizontal bar connected to a small circular base with a ball joint pivot, the Kinect sensor is designed to be positioned lengthwise above or below the video display. The device features an "RGB camera, depth sensor, multi-array microphone, and custom processor running proprietary software", which provides full-body 3D motion capture, facial recognition, and voice recognition capabilities. The Kinect sensor's microphone array enables the Xbox 360 to conduct acoustic source localization and ambient noise suppression, allowing for things such as headset-free party chat over Xbox Live.
The depth sensor consists of an infrared projector combined with a monochrome CMOS sensor, and allows the Kinect sensor to see in 3D under any ambient light conditions. The active depth-sensing range of the depth sensor is adjustable, with the Kinect software capable of automatically calibrating the sensor based on the gameplay and environment conditions, such as the presence of couches.
Kinect is reportedly based on software technology developed internally by Microsoft and hardware intellectual property acquired from time-of-flight camera developer 3DV Systems. Before agreeing to sell all its assets in March 2009, 3DV had been preparing its own depth-sensing webcam controller, known as the ZCam. Described by Microsoft personnel as the primary innovation of Kinect, the software technology enables advanced gesture recognition, facial recognition, and voice recognition. The skeletal mapping technology shown at E3 2009 was capable of simultaneously tracking multiple users for motion analysis, with a real-time feature extraction of 48 interest points on a human body. Depending on the person's distance from the sensor, Kinect is capable of tracking models that can identify individual fingers.
Three technical demos were shown to showcase Project Natal when it was revealed at Microsoft's E3 2009 Media Briefing:
- Ricochet - a Breakout-like game in which the entire body is used to bounce balls at blocks.
- Paint Party - where the player can make throwing motions to splash paint onto a wall. He/she can choose colours using speech recognition, and can pose to make stencils.
- Milo and Kate - a game in development by Lionhead Studios, in which the player interacts with a young child (Milo or Milly, selected by the user at the start) and his/her dog Kate, using items and passing him virtual items from real life actions. In an interview after the demonstration, Lionhead founder Peter Molyneux confirmed that the demo was in fact the long running Project Dimitri. In the demonstration available at E3 2009, only Milo was available to interact with.
- Burnout Natal - not showcased as a live demonstration, a demo based on Burnout Paradise in which the player uses an invisible steering wheel to control the vehicle.
The name "Project Natal" follows in Microsoft's tradition of using cities as code names. Microsoft director Alex Kipman, who incubated the project, chose to name it after the Brazilian city Natal as a tribute to his country of origin, and because the word natal relates to birth, which Kipman felt reflected the new audiences the project would deliver for the Xbox 360.