Skip to Content

Throwing Out the Xbox Control

An upgrade to the game console uses cameras to track players’ movements and recognize their faces.

On Monday, Microsoft demonstrated an upcoming Xbox 360 add-on that lets players interact with games by moving their hands and bodies in front of the screen–similar to the way that people can play games on the Nintendo Wii. But the major difference between the two consoles is that the Xbox 360 upgrade doesn’t require a controller at all. Instead, the system, named Project Natal, comes with a camera bar and a microphone that sits above or below a television set to record players’ physical activity.

According to a CNET report, Project Natal will work with “all current, past and future versions of the Xbox 360.” However, the add-on has no official name, price, or release date, and it’s being called a “concept for the future.”

Microsoft is late to the game in terms of camera-based interfaces. Sony’s Playstation 2 and 3 support camera add-ons that players use for physical games and video chat. And Softkinetic, a Belgium company, is working on a similar whole-body gaming system.

Controller-free gaming technology has existed for a while, but it has suffered from a few challenges. Pinpointing multiple players and correctly identifying distance from the camera can be difficult. The image-recognition software that analyzes the video stream must be fast enough to respond to a player so that there’s no perceived lag. And there’s also the question of whether people want to interact with their games without any tactile feedback. The Wii, which has proved to be incredibly popular, offers a variety of controllers that let people hold on, press buttons, and feel a vibration. A gesture-based game with only visual and audio feedback may feel flat.

It’s worth noting, too, that even proven gesture-based technology doesn’t guarantee success in the gaming and display market. Last summer, Samsung and Reactrix Systems, an interactive advertising company founded in 2001, announced a partnership to integrate cameras into Samsung displays for gaming. But in December, Reactrix liquidated all of its assets.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.