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10/7/2011
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Xbox Live Gets Kinect Control, Voice Search

Microsoft plans big upgrade for online entertainment service, but Kinect’s potential goes well beyond gaming.

Windows 8 Visual Tour: Microsoft's New Desktop
Windows 8 Visual Tour: Microsoft's New Desktop
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
In the latest example of how Microsoft is working to develop more natural ways for humans to interact with computers and electronic devices, the company said it is integrating its Kinect motion-based input technology and voice-controlled Bing search into its Xbox Live entertainment and gaming network.

The company also announced that almost 40 content providers, including Bravo, Comcast, and the BBC, have agreed to new deals to provide programming for Xbox Live.

"Combining the world's leading TV and entertainment providers with the power of Kinect for Xbox 360 and the intelligence of Bing voice search will make TV and entertainment more personal, social, and effortless," said Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft's interactive entertainment group.

[Gestural control goes a step further with Tobii PCEye. Learn how it lets you Control Your PC With Your Eyes.]

Microsoft said the revamped Xbox Live network, with integrated Kinect and Bing capabilities and new content, will be available for the upcoming holiday season.

While the offering is targeted primarily at consumers, it shows that Microsoft is working to develop systems that do not require users to be in physical contact with their machines. Such systems could lead to breakthrough applications in a wide range of fields, from medical science to engineering.

One usage scenario: physicians could remotely manipulate surgical equipment positioned in battlefields, disaster sites, or other areas that may be inaccessible. On a more pedestrian level, business users could open and manipulate desktop files with a few simple hand gestures.

Earlier this year, Microsoft released a toolkit that allows developers to create Windows PC applications that can take advantage of Kinect's ability to receive voice and motion-based commands. The Kinect SDK was developed by the company's interactive entertainment business unit in collaboration with Microsoft Research.

"When we first saw the Kinect it became completely obvious that what we wanted to do was control the universe with our fingertips," said Curtis Wong, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, in a video posted to the company's website.

The circuitry behind Kinect is also making its way to the PC market through non-Microsoft channels. Prime Sense, an Israeli startup that developed the motion-sensing chips used in Kinect, has licensed the technology to Taiwanese computer maker ASUS. ASUS has embedded the chips in its new WAVI Xtion media center, which adds PC and Web capabilities to flatscreen televisions.

The console lets viewers control onscreen menus and surf the Web through simple hand gestures.

Microsoft launched Kinect last November. It's the fastest-selling tech gadget of all time, according to Guinness Records.

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