Jan. 5, 2011 at 10:45 PM ET
Starting this spring, people who own an Xbox 360 and a Kinect sensor will be able to use avatars to talk to each other in a variety of virtual worlds, with their avatars not only mimicking their real-world body movements but their facial expressions as well.
Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, unveiled Avatar Kinect on Wednesday night during a keynote presentation that kicked off the Consumer Electronics Show, which takes place in Las Vegas this week.
During the keynote, Ballmer presented a video that showed off Avatar Kinect — due to hit Microsoft's online Xbox Live service in the spring. It showed how, with the Kinect sensor in place, up to seven friends can gather together in a virtual location using avatars to represent them. There will be 15 virtual spaces, each with a different theme — a beach, a talk show, a tailgate party, and a performance stage among others.
Then, with Kinect capturing your movements, your avatar will move as you move. For example, it waves when you wave. But more importantly, Kinect will capture the movements of your facial features. That is, your avatar will talk when you talk. If you smile, your avatar will smile. If you frown, your avatar will frown.
Meanwhile, Avatar Kinect will let you capture animated videos during your chat sessions — videos that you can then share online.
So yeah, Avatar Kinect is going to be something of a very fancy chat room. And it will be free to those who've signed up for the $50-per-year Xbox Live Gold subscription.
Ballmer kicked off the CES-opening keynote with lots of Xbox 360 and Kinect news.
He announced that Microsoft's new motion-control gadget has sold far better than expected. The company sold 8 million Kinect sensors worldwide during its first 60 days on the market — this after Microsoft originally predicted it would sell 5 million. (UPDATE: Microsoft has clarified that by "sold" he meant 8 million have been sold/shipped to stores.) And he said that 50 million Xbox 360s have been sold worldwide to date.
Microsoft also announced that, coming this spring, Xbox owners will no longer need a remote to browse through and play Netflix and Hulu Plus movies and TV shows. Instead, using Kinect, all they will have to do is wave their hand in the air to play, pause or rewind a movie, for example. Spoken commands can also be used.
As of right now, Xbox owners can use Kinect to control videos from the Zune Marketplace and ESPN only.
For more on this topic see:
Microsoft quietly kicks off CES: No Windows 8 announcement
Kinect-like gadgets bring motion controls to TVs, PCs
Kinect's five most ridiculous moments
Kinect meets 'World of Warcraft'