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