Here’s an interesting story that shares some news about the upcoming version of the Kinect — and Microsoft’s new hardware development efforts in general.
Time of Flight
Kinect is a camera-based device that connects to the Xbox to let users translate body motions and voice commands into game moves — say, in a virtual tennis or car-racing game. The newest version of the sensor will include TV controls.
The Kinect chips, designed by a team mostly based in Microsoft’s Silicon Valley office, use a technology called Time of Flight that will let the sensor track minute changes in a user’s body, like finger movements and facial expressions, a much more precise system than the earlier version. That lets Microsoft eliminate some of the failings of the first Kinect, Bamji said.
Time of Flight works by bouncing photons off a person or object, and has been used by military agencies for tasks like detecting a tank hiding behind tree cover, Bamji said. Texas Instruments Inc. and Infineon Technologies AG are also developing chips using Time of Flight.
When it goes on sale, Xbox One will face tough competition from Sony’s new PlayStation 4, as well as Nintendo Co. (7974)’s Wii U. Kinect in the past has largely appealed to kids and casual gamers and hasn’t had much content targeted at serious gamers, said Rob Sanfilippo, an analyst at Kirkland, Washington-based Directions on Microsoft. The new version may still not lure those customers from rivals.
There’s also the challenge and cost of creating a new chip from scratch, which can run into the tens of millions of dollars and take months of testing. One mistake in design or manufacturing slip-up can cause months of delay to a final product. For a company like Microsoft, with less experience in developing chips, there’s a risk that performance may not be as expected, Gartner’s Erensen said.
Microsoft, which announced the shift in May, follows some of the largest consumer-electronics makers in taking over more of its own chip design. Apple’s iPhone and iPad run on processors that the Cupertino, California-based company designs itself and has manufactured by Samsung Electronics Co. While the chips are based on ARM Holdings Plc technology, Apple customized the layout and makeup of the chip’s components.
Samsung also is using more of its own chips in its mobile phones, and LG Electronics Inc., HTC Corp. and Lenovo Group Ltd. have all talked about it, Gartner’s Erensen said.
While Microsoft’s Xbox and WebTV units have previously done some work designing chips, the company has never handled this much of a chip’s design, development and assembly, said Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Nick Baker, who leads the silicon architecture and verification teams. The company has about 200 people working on microprocessors. Only the mass manufacturing for the Kinect chips has been handed off to a chip foundry, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.
Other groups at Microsoft are taking notice, asking the Xbox team about their work on chips, and may even pursue a greater role in customizing their own microprocessors, said Todd Holmdahl, the vice president who has overseen Xbox hardware since the development of the first version in 1999….
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