Digital Life: Soon you'll be really hands-on
Remember Tom Cruise waving his hands to control images on a screen in sci-fi thriller Minority Report set in 2054? Maybe the future will arrive sooner than we expected if Microsoft can be believed, making everything on your TV from games to movies controllable just via body movements.
Nintendo stole a march on the entire industry when its Wii console grabbed the public's imagination and sold millions on the back of its innovative motion-sensitive 'wand'.
Microsoft wants to take that idea to a whole new level with upcoming technology that it codenames Project Natal, first unveiled last year.
Composed of a super-smart camera (sold as an add-on for the Xbox 360) and some intelligent software, Natal promises to dispense with traditional controllers.
Instead, you use your hands (or legs or head, etc) to direct the action on-screen, whether that be vigorous sports games or flicking through a movie catalogue to choose something to watch.
Natal works its magic by scanning the motion of up to 48 points on your body and replicating your image on the TV.
Additionally, it will be capable of voice and facial recognition.
Not surprisingly, this opens up enormous possibilities for innovative games, not to mention it could draw in millions of new consumers hitherto intimidated by the complexity of joy-sticks and game-pads.
"We wanted to make it more inviting, more fun by taking the controller away," said Heather Snavely, Xbox's director of global consumer communications, at a demo event for journalists in London last week.
Sure enough, the tech demo proved that at least the first part of Natal's formula -- body recognition -- is very nearly a reality.
A simple but energetic game called Ricochet enabled us to swipe with our hands and kick with our feet to direct balls to smash blocks -- like a 3D version of the classic Breakout. Our on-screen avatars closely followed the movements of our limbs, albeit with a tiny lag that hopefully can be improved.
Disappointingly, that's all Microsoft would demonstrate. So we'll have to take on trust the many other ideas in the Natal showreel, such as driving, video chat and voice/face recognition.
Some of these have already been demoed in public but Microsoft clearly feels them unready for prime-time.
Natal is expected to go on sale in October/November. Pricing hasn't been set but may be somewhere between €100 to €150, in addition to the cost of the Xbox 360.
See the Natal showreel at:www.xbox.com/ en-US/live/projectnatal