How Microsoft Kinect Works

By: Stephanie Crawford

In June 2010, two players demonstrate how the Kinect Sports game uses the controller-free motion-detection in Microsoft Kinect. See morevideo game system pictures.
Michal Czerwonka/Getty Images

Microsoft Kinect is poised to shake up the video game console experience. Announced and demonstrated as Project Natal in June 2009, Kinect seems almost magical the way it can "see" every movement of your body and reproduce it within the video game you're playing. Plus, it recognizes your face and voice so it can pick you out in the room and know who you are, even if you're playing with a group of friends. November 2010 marks Kinect's historic and anticipated release as a new addition to Microsoft's Xbox 360 product line.

As it turns out, Kinect isn't magical at all. It's a highly innovative combination of cameras, microphones and software that turns your body into the video game controller. The name Kinect is inspired by the words "kinetic," which means to be in motion, and "connect," which means it "connects you to the friends and entertainment you love" [source: Rule]. It's not just the games that get you moving, either: Kinect turns your Xbox 360 into a voice-activated console with video capturing and facial recognition, applicable for everything from selecting a TV show to creating digital artwork.


Microsoft has also designed Kinect as an enhancement to the Xbox Live experience. Xbox Live Video Chat makes use of Kinect's cameras and microphones for a webcam-like live chat with multiple friends at once [source: Stevens]. Plus, Microsoft teamed with ESPN to create a live interactive sports experience for Xbox Live Gold users. Not only can you watch sporting events in HD from ESPN, but you can also "join" other fans in rooting for your favorite team and answering sports trivia questions [source: Microsoft].

This article recalls the earliest buzz around Project Natal, describes the hardware, software and development behind the project, and explores how Microsoft Kinect could change the video game console market compared to the Nintendo Wii and the PlayStation Move.