May 21, 2013 at 2:56 PM ET
Microsoft announced the successor to the popular Kinect motion-sensing game accessory at Tuesday's Xbox One event. The updated device works in a totally different way from before, but it's far better — and so essential that one is going to come with every Xbox One.
The new Kinect (not the Kinect 2, or Kinect One, just Kinect) works using a completely different principle than the original's. The first used an infrared camera and projector to track an array of dots that were invisible to humans but told the device where you were. The new one uses something called "time of flight" technology.
In time-of-flight positioning, a pulse of light is emitted from the device and a highly sensitive image sensor tracks when and how that light bounces back. It's been used in many situations, allowing drones to track each other and 3-D images to be created from miles away. But this is probably the first time it will be deployed in the home.
Microsoft claims that this new tracking tech is so precise that it can detect not just the approximate position of your body and limbs, like the original Kinect, but also their orientation and tension. Your fingers, face, and it was even suggested that your heartbeat can be tracked.
Demo videos showed fighting stances and yoga positions, recreated with amazing precision. The latency should be far less on this version of the device as well, so no more lagging gestures or dodges being detected a fraction of a second too late. And it won't just detect you: One presenter noted that if you sit down and pick up a controller, the Kinect knows you want to play a game, and gets ready to load your latest save.
In addition to the 3-D tracking, the Kinect includes a traditional 1080p camera, and a wider-angle one than the last generation at that. You'll be using this camera to conduct video chats over Skype, which is built in and can be "snapped" to the side of the screen — nice for playing cooperatively with a friend or watching a movie with a distant significant other.
It will also listen closely to your speech and watch you while you play in case you decide to switch over to TV or return to the home screen with a gesture. It's clear that the new Kinect is not an accessory to the Xbox One — it's essential. So it's no surprise that it will come bundled with every console.
There are still lots of questions: Is there going to be a Windows version, like with the first? Where are the games? And why is the new Kinect so huge?
All these questions and more will almost certainly be answered in three weeks at E3. In the meantime, check out the rest of the specs and news from today's Xbox One event at this news post.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.