Microsoft also announced that Netflix and Hulu will be controllable with hand movements. The new feature will cost extra on the Xbox Live account. One subscribed, users will be able to navigate and control the movie and TV services with voice command and gestures.
Nice. But the real potential of Kinect is being demonstrated by others.
Researchers from the Technical University of Munich in Germany, for example, used Kinect to build a "virtual X-ray" prototype. The system takes CT scan images and uses them to simulate the experience of looking at a "magic mirror" that shows you your bones, organs and other innards.
A Kinect-based "magic mirror" that lets you try on virtual clothes in your own home while shopping online is nothing less than inevitable, and could eliminate the need for clothing stores.
Other developers have turned Kinect into a motion-capture machine. One even demonstrated the control of a humanoid robot in real-time. Obvious applications for this would be low-budget Hollywood movies, military bomb-disposal and infectious disease management.
A researcher at UC Davis has cobbled together a system for 3D video chat, where you can videoconference with a holographic 3D version of the person. It enables video chatters to be in the same virtual space, look at other in the eyes and even get up and look at the person from different angles.
The prototype is a very rough, very low-resolution version of the Star Trek "Holodeck." While prototype virtual reality systems have been demonstrated for decades, this is the first one already deployed in millions of living rooms.
Another pair of programmers created a "virtual piano" that can be projected onto any surface and played with hands and even feed by touching the desk or floor. The system is amazing because Microsoft hasn't yet optimized Kinect for finger gestures, which they have promised to do.
The list of innovations being developed for Kinect is very long and getting longer. The essential fact is that Kinect is breathtaking in its potential, and could transform how we interact with computers, including PCs.
Other companies are launching alternatives.
Asustek Computer, the company that makes the Eee PC, and PrimeSense, the company that makes the 3D camera in Kinect, are working together to make a Kinect-like gesture-control interface for the PC.
A Brussels joint-venture called Softkinetic-Optrima showed at CES a gesture control system for TV. By waving hands and moving fingers, TV viewers can open menus, click on things, change the channel and turn up the volume, essentially replacing a TV remote. Softkinetic's technology works on both Windows and Linux.
The technology behind the TV controller is totally different from Kinect's. But someone -- probably Microsoft itself -- will very likely enable TV control with Kinect. They've already announced control of Netflix and Hulu. It's just a matter of time before they make the entire TV-watching experience gesture controlled.
Now that Kinect has been on the market for two months, it's becoming clear that Microsoft has really hit this one out of the park. Kinect is truly revolutionary, and has the potential to transform human culture. It's the little product that could change the world. Kinect is Microsoft's iPhone.