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Microsoft goes hands-free with Project Natal

E3 announcement of new hands-free, motion-sensitive control system, plus Facebook and Last.fm on Xbox 360

Microsoft is taking on Nintendo with the announcement of a new motion-sensitive, hands-free control system for Xbox 360.

The announcement, one of several for the Xbox 360 made at the E3 show in Los Angeles, revealed Microsoft’s ‘Project Natal’ a 3D sensor system which will allow players to control games with voice and gestures without touching any hardware.

While motion-sensitive controllers are not new, with the most popular proponent being Nintendo’s Wii console, Microsoft claims that Project Natal will go far beyond anything seen before.

The system is based on technologies from 3DV Systems, recently acquired by Microsoft. It comprises an RGB camera, depth sensor, multi-array microphone, and custom processor running proprietary software built into a single camera-like device.

The sensor will be able to track full body movement and depth of field in 3-D, and will be able to also sense voice commands.

Software development kits for Natal have been distributed, and Microsoft said that all Xbox 360 games will be compatible in future but no other details are available at present.

Don Mattrick, senior vice president for the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft said: “Today with cultural visionaries at our side and controller-free gaming on our horizon, Xbox 360 authored a new page in home entertainment history. 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.”

Microsoft also announced a range of new games for Xbox 360, including another instalment to the Halo saga and a Beatles version of the Rockstar game, plus a host of enhancements for the Xbox LIVE service.

Microsoft’s online gaming and multimedia service will now include social networking site Facebook and music service Last.fm, tailored for television screens, plus streaming of 1080p HD movies and Xbox LIVE Party for movies which will allow users to share supported movies.

John Schappert, corporate vice president of Interactive Entertainment LIVE, Software and Studios at Microsoft said: “We are always asking ourselves how to make the TV more social. By bringing Facebook, Last.fm and Xbox LIVE Party for movies and TV shows to Xbox LIVE, we’re not only extending the walls of your living room beyond your home to your friends in different corners of the world, we’re creating the definitive social network, uniting more than 200 million people to share status updates, pictures, thoughts on music and the world’s best online gaming experience.”

For more on Project Natal see here.