Updated Kinect motion sensor coming to the PC next year

Microsoft's next-generation Kinect controller is a key component of the Xbox One console. It will ship with every system, and it's also coming to the PC. The Kinect for Windows blog has revealed that the new Kinect sensor and an accompanying SDK will be released for PC users in 2014.

In addition to teasing a PC version of the latest Kinect tech, the Microsoft blog post talks a little about the changes made to the updated controller. The integrated HD camera measures depth with what Microsoft describes as "proprietary Time-of-Flight technology." This new approach measures the time it takes for photons to bounce off subjects in the camera's field of view. Microsoft says this method is more precise than current Kinect tech, enabling developers to track subtle movements that would be lost with the existing camera.

Kinect's improved depth tracking combines with more robust skeletal modeling. The motion tracker can now differentiate between a user's thumb and the tip of his hand. It's also possible to track up to six different skeletons at once. Multiplayer hand-waving, anyone?

Microsoft seems to be intent on expanding the range of environments that work well with Kinect. The sensor's field of view has been increased by 60%, which is supposed to make the system usable in rooms of different sizes and configurations. An active infrared system also allows Kinect to function in the dark. There's a new microphone array, as well, and Microsoft says it does a better job of differentiating voices from background noise.

As a video game controller, Kinect doesn't really excite me. However, the motion tracker has interesting potential for UI navigation, especially when paired with strong speech recognition. The new sensor also looks like a big upgrade, and I suspect we'll see developers do neat things with it outside of the gaming realm. Most of that development, I suspect, will occur on the PC.

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