How MS will make XBL and Kinect better

"Everything will be drastically improved."

Microsoft is working hard to improve 10-million selling motion sensing add-on Kinect so that the games you play feel and control better.

Improvements made by Microsoft to the way the Xbox 360 works with Kinect mean it will detect finger movement and even pointing.

Eurogamer sources have indicated that gamers should see "pretty big improvements" in the short term via new software updates.

Improvements to face recognition, skeletal tracking and voice recognition are all planned.

Eurogamer understands Microsoft will soon announce that Kinect can detect voices in additional languages. Currently, it only understands English and a handful of other languages. An announcement may be made during Microsoft's E3 2011 press conference. 123Kinect.com reported today that Kinect Sports developer Rare will take to the stage next week for a demo that "will involve the voice aspect far more during gameplay".

It is not known whether this relates to Kinect Sports 2, which Eurogamer understands will be unveiled at E3, or Rare's secret second Kinect game, which Eurogamer exposed as being in the works last month.

Other rumours point to an E3 2011 announcement for a Xbox Live Diamond subscription.

According to Winrumors.com, Microsoft is working on a demo for E3 that would showcase "Project Orapa", discussed by Eurogamer this week.

Project Orapa is a codename for Microsoft's combination of Xbox Live and Mediaroom IPTV. If an Xbox app is planned, it could allow Xbox owners to control their TV settings, social networking, music and video with Kinect-fuelled gestures.

"Microsoft is currently in last minute negotiations to secure the necessary agreements in time," said a source. Microsoft plans to make Xbox Live Diamond available in November.

With regards Kinect, Eurogamer can reveal how Microsoft will improve its accuracy.

Currently, Kinect passes information to the Xbox 360 through a variety of streams. But Microsoft will soon allow developers to "turn off sound or depth", thus enabling Kinect to concentrate on sending a video feed, for example, of higher quality.

"If it had just have been a video feed from a camera, it would have been of really good quality," a Eurogamer source close to Kinect development said. "But the fact it's sending sound, depth and video is what tends to clog the bandwidth."

The Kinect camera outputs in 640x480, but the depth buffer is 320x240. Microsoft restricts the resolution of Kinect because of Xbox 360 USB limitations revealed by Eurogamer last year.

Most Xbox 360 games are 1280x720, but with Kinect outputting in 640x480, the video feed is smaller than the display picture, stretching it out.

"What people would ideally want is that it's at least 1:1 mapping," continued our source. "That's what they're working on. You can do Augmented Reality-type things, and if you want to just turn off the depth of the sound for a moment, then you can ask for the higher-quality video feed.

"Microsoft has been quite clever and canny in that they have put slightly more expensive pieces into the Kinect, which is why it's expensive, even though you can't access them immediately. But in software hopefully we'll be able to do this, now the PC people worked it out quite quick."

Improvements are also being made to the way Kinect tracks skeletons.

Currently, Kinect uses a 21 node skeleton to work out your movements. On every point it tells the Xbox, 'Here's the co-ordinate I believe the node is at, and here's how confident I am that it's there.'

For your hand, for example, Kinect sends through an X, Y and Z value, and says, for example, 'I'm 99 per cent sure.'

When you sit down, however, issues can arise. Kinect may say, 'Your knee is there, but I'm only 30 per cent sure it's there.' This presents problems to developers trying to work out if the information they are getting from Kinect is accurate.

"All the knees and ankles have always been a bit like it's semi-guessing," a source told Eurogamer. "But all those values are about to go up. They've been doing a lot of work on the seated position and said it will improve shortly with an update.

"If anyone thinks we're looking at fingers to see if you're pushing buttons, that would be really pointless. But if you were to hold your hand out and say, how many fingers am I holding up? Two, three, one, whatever... We're doing some work on it and it looks like you can do it.

"You can hold them out as well. If you point at the screen, you'll be able to work out whether you're pointing one finger or two fingers. The accuracy is actually pretty good.

"They're doing some improvements on their libraries. All game designers are just working out how better to recognise gestures, when to throw data away, and when data might be dirty. That's going to happen with the second wave of games."

The upshot of these improvements is a more accurate Kinect, and better games.

"Any Augmented Reality would look higher quality," Eurogamer was told. "The recognition on your body and gestures would be more accurate."

Eurogamer understands the second wave of Kinect games, many of which will be unveiled at E3 next week, will work much better than last year's launch titles.

"So many games were rushed for launch and early release," said a source. "For everyone, it was like, this is a bit new and different. Everyone's starting to get into it now and say, hold on a second, we're going to design this one properly.

"I know internally at Microsoft there's a lot of work going in on how you can push it to the limit.

"You're going to see some pretty big improvements. The hardware is slightly more capable than the software. There are so many places it can be improved through clever software. Microsoft is doing its bit low level. Game designers are learning how to deal with this kind of data. Everything is going to be drastically improved through software."

Eurogamer understands at least 10 non-sequel Kinect games will be announced at E3.

A source told us Microsoft is expected to "serve the hardcore" at the show with its Kinect announcements.

When contacted for comment by Eurogamer, Microsoft said: "We're constantly working to expand and improve on experiences for Xbox 360, Xbox Live and Kinect. We have nothing further to announce at this time."

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