Kinect, the product formally known as Project Natal unveiled

New, smaller Xbox 360 coming this week

IT’S E3 TIME and Microsoft has unveiled the retail name for Project Natal as well as the product itself of course. Get used to Kinect as a new “word” in the world of controller free, motion and voice controlled gaming. Microsoft also unveiled its new, smaller and more feature rich Xbox 360 console which will hit retail later this week.

Although Kinect was officially announced last night, most of the details were only just announced at Microsoft’s E3 keynote press conference. The full name is Kinect for Xbox 360 and it would appear that Kinect is actually pronounced almost like connect rather than ki-nect or something similar. Naming conventions aside, it looks like Microsoft has really come up with something that is set to change the way we interact with games, at least if the real deal works as well as it did in the demos during the keynote.

Kinect itself consists of an elongated webcam with a couple of additional 3D depth sensors, a microphone array and a motorized tilt mechanism.  It connects to any Xbox 360 console via USB, although for anyone with a current Xbox 360 console, the Kinect also needs to be powered with the help of an extra power brick which is included. Microsoft announced that Kinect will go on sale in the US on November 4th, but no pricing was revealed at this time.

Microsoft is working on a new sub-menu for Kinect which allows you to control most things with either gestures or voice commands. This doesn’t just include games, but you can also control audio and video content this way. It all looked rather slick during the demo, but it’ll be interesting to see how well it all actually works in real life situations, especially for people that aren’t familiar with game consoles.

As far as game content is concerned, not all games will work with Kinect and of the 15 launch titles, there doesn’t seem to be many huge hits with the possible exception being Dance Central from MTV games and Harmonix. Yes, we know it’s a dance game, but if you’ve seen the demonstration, then you know what we’re talking about, despite the nerdy guy dancing.

Kinectimals is likely to be a huge hit with kids though and this was one of the most impressive interactive demonstrations. Games like Kinect Sports, Kinect JoyRide and Kinect Adventures all looked quite cheesy and we don’t see them holding long-term entertainment value, especially as all three are very similar in terms of game play.

However, there are some gems to look forward to that will arrive next year, such as a yet un-named Star Wars game which allows you to take the role of a Jedi and for the first time swing a light sabre, although without actually holding anything in your hands. Forza Motorsport will also get Kinect support and we should be hearing more game announcements during E3 from third party developers.

As far as the new console is concerned, well, it’s black rather than white and it will take over the current position as Microsoft’s top of the range console at $299. It’s small enough to fit inside the current console as demonstrated by Microsoft at the keynote and it’s the console Microsoft always wanted to make. Feature wise you’ll get an internal, but removable 250GB hard drive (about time too), built in 802.11n Wi-Fi (again, about time), two front USB 2.0 ports, three rear USB 2.0 ports, an AUX port (most likely for powering Kinect) the traditional AV connector, an HDMI port, optical out and of course an Ethernet port. We weren’t far off the spec back in March when the motherboard pictures leaked and it even looks like there’s no need for a power brick this time around.

As for new games for those that didn’t follow the keynote, you can look forward to Call of Duty Black Ops, Metal Gear Solid Rising, Gears of War 3, Halo Reach, Fable III and a new game from Crytek which is currently going under the name of Codename Kingdoms. These games will launch later this year or early next year.

Overall Microsoft managed to impress with its line-up of new titles, as well with Kinect and of course the new console. However, the good news isn’t over, at least if you don’t mind owning a current generation Xbox 360, as Microsoft dropped the price of the Elite to $249 and the Arcade to a very affordable $149. That makes the Xbox 360 Arcade the second cheapest console on sale after the Playstation 2, but as this is a previous generation console, we’re not sure it really counts.S|A

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