We’ve known for some time that Microsoft would be bringing official Kinect support to Windows this week, but one thing they kept quiet was the fact that they’d be debuting a new version of the hardware as well.
It’s not tiny, as some hoped, or built into the bezel of a laptop, as we know it will be eventually, but it does improve on the original in a few ways.
The most visible improvement for most people will be a slight improvement of the minimum distance required for the device to operate. The Xbox 360 Kinect required you to be around 50cm away at least, and the Kinect for Windows will go down to 40cm — about 16 inches. That means it can sit on a monitor on a user’s desk and capture movements without the user having to scoot back at all.
Other improvements are of the softer variety. Microsoft has improved the tracking software, providing an improved raw sensor stream, better color/depth synchronization, and more accurate skeletal tracking.
On the downside, the new version costs quite a bit more: the new Kinect for Windows is going for $250, while the 360 version is selling for just $100 at the Microsoft Store right now. The justification for the price seems to be that the new version has been updated to support multiple systems and situations, rather than the standard 360 hardware it’s been running on for the last year. And I’m guessing they’re not subsidizing this price quite as heavily.
The official SDK won’t work with the 360 version, it seems, though you can still download the beta SDK, which works fine but officially can’t be used for commercial applications.
Microsoft says they’ve been working with hundreds of companies and seeing lots of unique applications and ideas, so hopefully we’ll see some of those hit soon. In the mean time our Kinect tag has lots of projects that demonstrate the versatility of the device.