The Kinect was widely mocked before it was released only for many to realize, much like Nintendo’s Wii, that it offered a wealth of new gaming opportunities. Microsoft is obviously considering how to improve its products – could the next-gen really be good enough to read lips?
When the Kinect was first being announced, it was intimated that perhaps Kinect could offer some truly unusual benefits – such as giving the ability for the Xbox 360 to understand sign language. Such a revolution in communication would offer, for example, deaf and hearing-impaired gamers to communicate in real time video conferences in new and exciting ways.
While the Kinect has exceeded expectations in the developer and scientific communities, that one feature sadly never made it into the production lineup. One of the possible reasons for that could be the limited bandwidth the Kinect has to communicate with the Xbox console.
Like the other two consoles, the Xbox uses USB to communicate with its controllers and other peripherals. Standard USB 2.0 interfaces can transmit and receive data at somewhere between 30 and 40MB/s. Microsoft artificially limits the data sent by the Kinect to just 15MB/s or so, since there can be other USB peripherals communicating with the Xbox at the same time.
That limit on data means that the first Kinect can’t be too good at what it did – the data could overwhelm the system and prevent input from things like other controllers from being recognized at the same time. For that reason, the Kinect has a pretty paltry set of sensors – compared to many modern cameras:
Kinect Technical Specifications
- Color and depth-sensing lenses
- Voice microphone array
- Tilt motor for sensor adjustment
- Data Streams
- 320×240 16-bit depth @ 30 frames/sec
- 640×480 32-bit colour@ 30 frames/sec
- 16-bit audio @ 16 kHz
Skeletal Tracking System
- Tracks up to 6 people, including 2 active players
- Tracks 20 joints per active player
- Ability to map active players to Xbox LIVE Avatars
So the color camera records and streams at VGA resolution, or 640×480, while the depth-sensing camera, which helps the Kinect work its motion-sensing magic, records and streams at just QVGA resolution, or 320×240.
That limit on data, the 15MB/s cap, that will almost assuredly change by the time the next Kinect, as well as the next Xbox, hit the market. USB 3.0 is becoming a widely accepted standard on midrange and higher desktops and laptops, and it makes sense for Microsoft to consider its inclusion in a next-generation gaming console. With USB 3.0 promising real-world data transfer rates of over 100MB/s, the cap under which the current Kinect suffers suddenly evaporates.
And that’s just a simple guess. The company could turn to several different technologies, if they feel the access is necessary, such as Intel’s Light Peak interconnect technology, which is now shipping under the Thunderbolt brand.
Now, Microsoft will still want to make money on these systems, so the upgrades likely won’t be too overblown. But the company does want to make Kinect more useful for gamers and non-gamers alike. The company has officially come out and mentioned that it’s working to bring Kinect support to its Windows platform, and it seems reasonable to suggest that a computer-focused Kindle might need to be higher resolution than its previous gaming counterparts to allow for activities such as scanning an object or sheet of paper simply by holding it up to the camera.
Gamers have responded with a mixture of hope and derision to the rumors, suggesting that Microsoft has failed to deliver on promises it made with the first Kinect – groups of gamers jumping together was quickly cut down to two active participants, with few solid games that really capitalize on the new movement controller.