Microsoft had some lofty goals for its Xbox Kinect hardware prior to launch, estimating sales of 5 million unis before the end of 2010. During his CES keynote address, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer not only indicated that Microsoft blew past those sales expectations, but predicted that Kinect will change the way people experience TV.
Nope, no hyperbole there.
To be fair, some of the hype is surely just all Ballmer’s pent-up excitement over the Xbox finally performing well. After all, the first Xbox didn’t perform all that well, yet Ballmer unveiled at CES that the Xbox 360 has sold more than 50 million times worldwide, twice the sell-through rate of the previous hardware generation. Couple that with the revelation that Microsoft has sold 8 million Kinect sensors worldwide in 60 days, and you can’t fault the guy for being excited.
But from an “excitement” standpoint, it’s not the results of the past that got Ballmer hot and bothered at CES. It’s the future — and the future as it relates specifically to the Xbox Kinect.
(No, that video linked above isn’t from CES this year….)
“Your Xbox is becoming the hub of your living room,” said Ballmer. “It is your gaming system. It is your movies. It is your TV experience.”
To be clear, this is exactly the result Microsoft wanted when it launched the original Xbox. Good things come to those who wait, apparently. But a little more waiting is what’s necessary before the Kinect takes over consumers’ TV.
During his CES keynote, Ballmer announced an update that will let the Kinect cameras read facial expressions and mouth movements in addition to arm and leg movements. The result will be Xbox avatars chatting with one another in virtual settings and placing live bets on sporting events from the TV screen.
“As you can see now Kinect can track features like your smile, your laugh and even the raise of your eyebrows,” said Ballmer while making his own (bald) avatar’s eyebrows move up and down.
The new Kinect update will be called “Avatar Kinect” and be available only to Xbox Live Gold subscribers. Avatar Kinect is due out later this spring, although a specific date has not yet been announced. A demo of the update in action showed some Xbox avatars chatting at a virtual tailgater (go, Ducks!), while another showed female avatars chatting in some sort of a neon TV set or studio akin to an online talk show.
In a CNN recap of the speech, it was reported that
Viewers can chat with friends on the TV screen during the game and place non-monetary bets about who they think will win. They can see how their predictions stack up against that of their friends and the Xbox Live community at large.
Football fans would be ranked according to success, allowing sports fans to “earn their bragging rights,” said Ron Forbes, from Microsoft’s interactive entertainment division.
“Now I can make my picks and trash talk as I’m watching the game,” he said. “Not on e-mail, not over text — right in my living room on the TV.”
The Avatar Kinect feature sounds intriguing to be sure. We’ll bring more details about the update, including its release date, as soon as the information becomes available.