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Microsoft Reveals Tech Behind Project Natal

Gordon Kelly


Microsoft Reveals Tech Behind Project Natal

Been wondering what fuels all that whiz bang wizardry behind Project Natal? Wonder no longer...

Microsoft has been good enough to finally let slip the ingredients of its controller-less-controller-system (that's my special phrase for it) and it turns out '3D sensing' specialist (its phrase this time) PrimeSense is behind it. Furthermore, despite Natal's incredible impact, it all seems rather simple.

The short, the setup is built around three major components: PrimeSense's PS1080 SoC (described as the 'brain'), a CMOS sensor and an infrared light source. The infrared (invisible to the human eye) covers the nearby area in an IR Light Coding image which is picked up by the CMOS sensor and the SoC turns it into a 3D map. To enhance accuracy Microsoft adds in a further colour camera which the SoC uses to compile a second image and combine the two.

Two mics then pick up voice commands and the whole lot is pumped to the Xbox through one of its USB ports. USB also powers Natal with no need for a separate plug. The whole device also only measures 14 x 3.5 x 5cm and is, in effect, a glorified (if very smart) webcam using "standard off-the-shelf components". So it seems Natal could very well come out close to the rumoured £50 price tag.

Excitingly the PrimeSense company tech demo (below) also shows the ambition it has to expand this tech beyond gaming and into the wider home cinema sector.

As for Natal, not all is entirely rosy though. Like the PlayStation Move a lag has been reported in early testing that's just enough to throw gamers off and given most games require split second timing that's a crucial caveat if either company is hoping to see users put down their gamepads on a permanent basis.

Still, with both Natal and Move not scheduled until "late 2010", seemingly cheap price tags on the way and plenty more time to get things fine tuned I suspect, come Christmas, we can still all be leaping around like sweaty elephants. Preferably not/during the Queen's speech... (delete to taste)



PrimeSense Reference Design

Xbox Project Natal


April 1, 2010, 10:00 am

Introducing a new way to play....

Go outside in the fresh air..before we all end up like the balloon figure humans from WALL-E.

It also intrigues me how the system will recognise the individual 'responsibilities'. EG:adopted by the family in the first movie clip. How does it know the girl is the driver and the guy who changes the wheel does that and hands back to the driver - apparently without any commands being issued. Or do we have to shout at the set - but hang on I do that now!:)


April 1, 2010, 10:17 am

@Chocoa - true, but wouldn't you say Natal actually encourages the most healthy form of gaming to date? It should be a potentially far more energetic experience than the Wii.

PS - regarding the driving, hint: it's a promotional tech demo ;)

Hamish Campbell

April 1, 2010, 12:57 pm

jeez I would go mental. Now the remote isn't controlled by one person, free for all. AND my fidgety wife cannot annoy me just be surfing the net and tidying up during a movie, but now just stop it and search on the screen for that other movie that actor did which she can't quite remember. banned.


April 1, 2010, 1:55 pm

MS give me Visual Studio integration plz.

Goes to show that MS a getting more things right than Sony and the stupid wand cash in. Sony need to stop for a kit kat and get back to where they once were.


April 1, 2010, 4:02 pm

@Chocoa: Its easy if you think about it, why does natal need to differentiate between who is who, just that a player is doin the right 'command'

But we will see how practical it all is in the long run, I personally like natal more for minority report style remote control as opposed to something i would use for gaming - for me nothing beats a proper pad that fits in my hand. But being able to control the UI with just gestures to me is awesome, no more looking for the remote you could just change the channel, adjust the volume, PIP etc etc with just hand movements. I think all of this motion enabled gaming malarky is a gimmick, but gesture controlled UI's is the future.


April 1, 2010, 4:38 pm

@kdot - I think "multiplayer" is the answer to "why?".

As I've probably said before, Natal is awesome technology that Microsoft purchased and developed, but, similarly, I don't see it as a game controller.

@hank - how are MS "getting more things right than Sony"? Sony had Natal-Basic many moons ago, and sure, they may have copied the design of the wand/nunchuck but it's different, and not to mention superior, technology running it... Plus, you know, at least it's still a controller.

@Microsoft - get this technology the hell into windows, get it into the xBox OS (same to you Sony with Move and the XMB please...), get it into media centre, get it into everything you're working on. You have so much potential here, despite my assumed hatred-until-proven-otherwise for your products, you're doing well recently, I want to see you succeed.


April 1, 2010, 5:53 pm

@kdot: I agree about the gesture-based UI rather than that many gaming applications.

@Cub: Superior tech, yes, but whether that'll make an ounce of difference to gameplay is not yet clear.


April 2, 2010, 4:45 am

The shot where he types action thriller is just BS!

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