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About Judy

As WP's senior editor, I edit review and preview articles, attempt to keep up with the frantic pace of Rainier's news posts, and keep our reviewers on deadline, which is akin to herding cats. When I have a moment to myself and don't have my nose in a book, I like to play action/RPG, adventure and platforming games...

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Microsoft Unveils Controller-Free Gaming

by Judy on June 1, 2009 @ 3:58 p.m. PDT

Today, Microsoft opened the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) with a historic Xbox 360 briefing. In addition to premiering 10 exclusive new games, revolutionizing the way we watch TV, and making it easier to connect to friends, Xbox also welcomed filmmaker Steven Spielberg to introduce "Project Natal" and full-body, controller-free gaming.

"Today with cultural visionaries at our side and controller-free gaming on our horizon, Xbox 360 authored a new page in home entertainment history," said Don Mattrick, senior vice president for the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. "For us, this E3 is about breaking down barriers — between generations, between games and entertainment, and most important, between video game players and everyone else — in a way that only Xbox 360 can."

During its briefing, Microsoft showed why Xbox 360 continues to defy industry sales trends. First: A lineup of blockbuster games to ignite every passion, including "Forza Motorsport 3," "Alan Wake," "Halo 3: ODST" and "The Beatles: Rock Band." Next? A host of groundbreaking Xbox Live services, from instant on 1080p HD streaming movies and television to Facebook and Last.fm tailor-made for your TV. And rounding it all out, "Project Natal," a whole new way to play, no controller required.

Unveiled for the first time to the public was "Project Natal," pronounced "nuh-tall" and a code name for a revolutionary new way to play, no controller required. See a ball? Kick it, hit it, trap it or catch it. If you know how to move your hands, shake your hips or speak, you and your friends can jump into the fun. The only experience needed is life experience.

Compatible with any Xbox 360 system, the "Project Natal" sensor is the world's first to combine an RGB camera, depth sensor, multi-array microphone and custom processor running proprietary software all in one device. Unlike 2-D cameras and controllers, "Project Natal" tracks your full body movement in 3-D, while responding to commands, directions and even a shift of emotion in your voice.

In addition, unlike other devices, the "Project Natal" sensor is not light-dependent. It can recognize you just by looking at your face, and it doesn't just react to key words but understands what you're saying. Call a play in a football game, and players will actually respond. Want to log onto Xbox Live? Simply step in front of the sensor.

"The next step in interactive entertainment is to make the controller disappear," said Steven Spielberg, visionary director and producer. "With 'Project Natal,' we'll see games that bring everyone together through technology that actually recognizes us."

What is "Project Natal"?

"Project Natal" (pronounced na-tall) is the code name for the new controller-free gaming and entertainment experience from Xbox 360. The name "Project Natal" has several sources. Microsoft Corp. traditionally uses cities as code names. As a result, Alex Kipman, who incubated the project and is from Brazil, chose Natal, a city along the northeastern coast of Brazil, as a tribute to his country. In addition, he knew that Natal also means "to be born" in Latin. Given the new audiences "Project Natal" will bring to Xbox 360, this felt right.

How Will "Project Natal" Change the Way I Play?

  • Controller-free gaming and entertainment. "Project Natal" provides a whole new way to play — no controller required. It uses a sensor to track your body movement and recognize your face, even listen to your voice. If you know how to move your hands, shake your hips, or speak, you and your friends will be able to jump instantly into any "Project Natal" experience.
  • Full-body play. "Project Natal" provides a new way to play where you use all parts of your body — head, hands, feet and torso. With controller-free gaming you don't just control the superhero, you are the superhero. Full-body tracking allows the "Project Natal" sensor to capture every move, from head to toe, to give players a full-body gaming experience.
  • Personalized play. "Project Natal" provides an in-game experience in which the player's face and voice are recognized. Greet and speak to characters in the game, or simply step into view of the sensor to log into Xbox LIVE and connect with friends. Only "Project Natal" is smart enough to remember voices and faces. Fun has never been so personalized.
  • Off-the-couch play. "Project Natal" provides gameplay that gets you off the couch, on your feet and in the fun. Each "Project Natal" experience is designed to get players moving, laughing, cheering and playing together. "Project Natal" makes social gaming off-the-couch fun.
  • Easy-to-play fun. "Project Natal" makes sharing in the fun a snap. Talk or watch a movie in the same living room or on the other side of the world — no headset, no keyboard and no controllers required. It's just you, your friends, your family and a whole new way to play.

How Does "Project Natal" Work?

  • "Project Natal" sensor. "Project Natal" is the world's first system to combine an RGB camera, depth sensor, multiarray microphone and custom processor running proprietary software that brings "Project Natal" experiences to every Xbox 360 console. The "Project Natal" sensor tracks full-body movement and individual voices, creating controller-free fun and social entertainment available only on Xbox 360.
  • RGB camera. "Project Natal" has a video camera that delivers the three basic color components. As part of the "Project Natal" sensor, the RGB camera helps enable facial recognition and more.
  • Depth sensor. An infrared projector combined with a monochrome CMOS sensor allows "Project Natal" to see the room in 3-D (as opposed to inferring the room from a 2-D image) under any lighting conditions.
  • Multiarray microphone. "Project Natal" has a microphone that will be able to locate voices by sound and extract ambient noise. The multiarray microphone will enable headset-free Xbox LIVE party chat and more.
  • Custom processor (running Microsoft proprietary software layer). A proprietary software layer makes the magic of "Project Natal" possible. This layer differentiates "Project Natal" from any other technology on the market through its ability to enable human body recognition and extract other visual noise.

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