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Rumors of new Xbox with mandatory Kinect inspire privacy concerns

With rumors suggesting that Microsoft will soon unveil a powerful new home game machine, leaks this week suggest that the next Xbox will not only feature redesigned controllers but will require a Kinect device in order to function.

Microsoft has yet to officially admit it's even working on a new Xbox, but the company is widely expected to reveal the new machine — codenamed Durango — in the coming months and launch it during this year's holiday season.

Gaming news and opinion site Kotaku has published an extensive report on some of the machine's new features after speaking with a source who claims to have access to hundreds of pages of Microsoft documentation and to have played games on the new machine.

While it has been long-rumored that Microsoft is working on a new and improved version of the motion and voice-sensing accessory known as Kinect, Kotaku reports that the next Xbox will not only come packaged with the new Kinect but the peripheral must be connected to the game console and fully calibrated for the console to work.

According to Kotaku, the new Kinect camera has been improved so much so that it can track up to six people in the same room at the same time.

Kinect — which is currently an optional Xbox 360 accessory — has been a somewhat divisive device, with hardcore players in particular panning its sometimes imprecise tracking and its gimmicky implementation in games. But this week's leaks have raised additional concern among some gamers.

Kotaku's report points out that a mandatory Kinect connection could mean a camera always watching players' in-home behavior. Meanwhile, Microsoft recently filed patents for technology that would not only allow companies to use Kinect to monitor people's media usage and charge them for it but also allow them to target advertising at gamers based on their mood — mood sensed and determined based on Kinect-collected data. That combo has set off privacy concerns for some.

"If these Kinect details are true, then this machine is going to be one scary ass marketing tool ... so much so that it would possibly make me uncomfortable with one in my house," wrote commenter Chad Sexington.

"The new console better not require that the camera be on all the time when its not needed!" wrote commenter Joeboosauce on "I don't want to be watched all the time ... It might sound paranoid but this tech opens the door for govt, hackers, etc."

Other gamers responded to the new Kinect rumors not with privacy concerns, but with price concerns.

"I can't really say that mandatory Kinect connection is a dealbreaker for me. Take a step back, forcing me to pay for the Kinect hardware in the first place, is the dealbreaker," wrote commenter Thrak360 on tech site Ars Technica.

Meanwhile, others raised concerns that they would have to pay for the new Kinect device only to find that it might not work properly in their small home or apartment space (a problem that has been discovered by some current Kinect owners).

Of course, Microsoft has not had a chance to respond to such questions and concerns — since the company has yet to officially acknowledge the new machine's existence. But if this week's leaks do prove to be true, the next Xbox will be able to run multiple games and apps at once and will also ship with with a 500GB HDD which will store games that must be immediately installed when you first insert the game disc. The good news is, you can start playing the game while that install work happens in the background, according to Kotaku's source.

Meanwhile, the leaks also suggest the next Xbox will come with a redesigned controller that is a "natural evolution" of the current controller. Sony too has been rumored to be working on a new machine (code-named Orbis) with a redesigned controller that includes a touch-pad. In fact, it appears Sony is about to take the wraps off its forthcoming game machine, having revealed a mysterious press event scheduled for Feb. 20.

Stay tuned here to InGame for coverage of that event. InGame Editor Todd Kenreck will be on hand and we will bring you coverage as it happens.

Winda Benedetti writes about video games for NBC News. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti and you can follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.