Disney is early user of Microsoft's new Kinect sensor
- 15 July 2014
- From the section Technology
Disney has emerged as one of the first firms to have put to use the second version of Microsoft's Kinect sensor outside of an Xbox game.
The movie company told the BBC it would shortly use the voice-motion sensor as part of a PC-powered interactive campaign for a forthcoming kids' film.
The news coincides with the general release of a new version of the kit designed for Windows computers.
The Kinect, however, has had a troubled Xbox One launch.
The sensor system was initially bundled with every copy of the games console, with Microsoft marketing the two as being intrinsically linked.
But the firm reversed policy in May, offering a Kinect-less Xbox, citing customer feedback.
Consumers had complained that its inclusion made the Xbox One more expensive than Sony's PlayStation 4.
And while the new machine is better at minimising the lag between a user's movements and the video game reacting than the original version, many players and developers still prefer the faster, higher precision controls offered by gamepads.
As a result both Microsoft and the major third-party publishers shied away from promoting products designed around its features at last month's E3 games expo, with the exception of a couple of music-based titles, an exercise game and an indie title.
The Kinect for Windows v2 offers several advantages over its predecessor, including:
- "Full high definition" 1080p resolution video capture versus the lower resolution 480p images produced by the original
- An improved ability to model the human skeleton, tracking 25 joints per person compared to 20 in the first model. It can also keep track of up to six people at a time rather than two
- A 60% wider field of view, allowing it to both monitor a wider area and allow users to be able to stand about 10cm (3.9in) closer to the device
- Higher fidelity depth sensing with less problems caused by "digital noise", letting the device recognise smaller objects
- The ability to monitor activity via both the room's ambient light and its own infrared lamp at the same time
Disney used the original Kinect to power a promotional campaign for Iron Man 3 used in 14 countries.
It involved members of the public standing in front of a screen who could call computer-generated parts of the superhero's suit to fit themselves to the video image of their body by moving their limbs, allowing them to later fire its weapons and simulate flight.
"We really stretched its limitations," said Dan Radford, head of digital marketing at the UK offices of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
"When you had a four-year-old kid interacting with it there had to be a certain distance, but it didn't always pick them up as well as we would have hoped.
"Now it feels like the camera has the capability to do that much better and the kids can stand closer to it."
Mr Radford added that his firm had previously needed to pair the original Kinect with a higher resolution video camera to achieve an image suitable for the giant screens Disney used to promote the film.
The new version can capture high definition video natively, simplifying the technology required to achieve the desired effect.
Mr Radford said his team had used the kit to create a campaign for the film Planes 2: Fire & Rescue, which would allow two children to simultaneously control two animated aeroplanes by stretching out their arms, leaning back and forth, and bending their knees. The promotion launches at the end of this week.
"With this camera it just feels like the opportunity is there to create a more stable experience," he said.
Surgeons and suits
The original Kinect has been use in a wide variety of non-gaming activities, including:
- Allowing surgeons to control video feeds during keyhole surgery without having to touch a physical device and risk infection
- A way to scan shoppers to allow them to order tailor-made suits from abroad
- A control system for a wheelchair that scans both the surrounding area and the user's gaze to guide them to their desired destination
- A way for homeowners to preview what a new piece of furniture would look like in their room
- A way to control interactive artworks on display at London's Tate Modern gallery and the Barbican Centre
Despite the fact many competing gesture control systems exist - such as Leap Motion, SoftKinetic's DepthSense line-up and Creative's Senz3D - one analyst said the new machine was much anticipated, even if its £159 price tag would limit demand.
"It's not just one of the most advanced sensors of its kind, it's also the best marketed - the Xbox team at Microsoft have done an amazing job of positioning and explaining Kinect to people," said Chris Green from the Davies Murphy Group consultancy.
"Eventually they will need to make it smaller and a bit more portable so that it can be integrated into laptops, but for the moment it's very much pitched at being used with static monitors or TVs, and you can stick it on top and be fine."
BBC Click will have more on Disney's campaign on the next edition of the TV programme. You can watch more clips from the show on the Click website.