Knocked out by Natal

June 3, 2009

natalIf you’ve already seen the Natal demonstration from E3 you may be wondering what it has to do with home theater. If you haven’t seen it, run (do not walk) to this video and watch it from start to finish; be sure to see Peter Molyneux’s “Milo” demonstration as well.  I’ll wait right here, I promise.  Ok, what did you think, were you blown away like I was?

If you weren’t intrigued by the time the Kung-Fu demonstration was over in the first video, I honestly don’t know what to say, but of course it doesn’t end there. The demonstration goes on to full motion capture and control, real-time image scanning/importing, and even facial recognition. Remember we’re talking about a Xbox360 add-on that’s expected in a matter of months, not a early mock-up (there are multiple accounts of non-insiders using the product from E3) or something planned for a few years down the road.

So again, what does Natal have to do with home theater? A better question might be, what doesn’t it have to do with home theater? Look past the gaming applications and think about the core technologies, voice recognition, this ones simple, “start movie”, “dim lights”, “next video”, so on and so on.

The motion capture/recognition could again be used to trigger shuttle-commands and launch different files but it could also be used for something as simple as dimming the lights 30 minutes after the last motion was detected in the room.

The facial recognition stuff really got me to thinking about home automation. Back in the olden days, we programmed our touch panels with user shortcuts so that when dad was using the remote his music playlist was featured, not moms. With facial recognition the panel already knows who’s in control before the first button is pushed. But even simpler than that, what about security system integration? Natal compatible (or similar*) security systems could disarm your alarm before you reached the doorstep. *Facial recognition isn’t new, but it is at these price points.

Even more important than the tech demonstrated at E3 is the fact that, for once, something this cool will get launched on the back of something millions of people already use and, in-turn, will get even more exposure. That’s the really neat part. The technology will get an instant audience in the form of some of the most rabid tech junkies imaginable. Yeah, Natal was neat and I’m certainly looking forward to gaming with it but I’m really looking a year, three years, or more down the road where similar technologies have all but replaced input devices altogether. (Except my keyboard and mouse… not willing to let them go just yet)

Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Commentary, Home Theater


  • comfort_sleeper

    While I love this idea, I couldn't help but thinking about holding back until version 2 comes out. There has to be some flaws to the first version.

  • comfort_sleeper

    While I love this idea, I couldn't help but thinking about holding back until version 2 comes out. There has to be some flaws to the first version.

  • bgreenway

    pteittinen, fair on all counts, although I'd say there are plenty xbox360 users who are quite content using their consoles as media extenders, its those users I would expect to drive any Natal control integration forward, not necessarily the hardcore home theater enthusiasts. I don't recall where but I seem to remember seeing the claim that the 360 was the number one media center extender in-use by huge margin.

    As to the dimly lit theaters, you know in a true home theater setting I would wholeheartedly agree, I also think the number of Xbox360's connected to “true” home theaters is pitifully low. But the low-light consideration is a good point and one I hadn't considered fully. That still leaves the voice integration but I suppose one could argue that a soundtrack at reference volumes would render that moot too, but then again who listens at reference volumes aside from us home theater freaks?

    I guess my failing here (as evidenced by Bjarki's comment) was not clarifying that this type of technology, not necessarily Natal itself could really be a boon to home automation and system control. Clearly though we need a clean break from pounding on remotes for that to happened, Natal's as good as example as any as to what we would stand to gain from that break.

  • BG, while I was quite impressed with Natal demos, I think you are reaching a bit with all this talk about home theater applications. First off, MS will very likely bind the tech to work with Xbox only (at least initially) and we all know how useless their beige box is for HT use. Second, I'm pretty sure Natal requires plenty of light to work properly. Sure, it's got IR vision but that's not enough on its own — and that CMOS camera will be as blind as a bat in a typical dim-lit HT room, let alone a proper batcave.

  • bgreenway

    Chris a little skepticism is wise and I wouldn't be at all surprised if its not everything they promise at launch. I'm just fascinated by the idea and the fact they're this far along, plenty of time to hone and perfect.

  • Chris B. Behrens

    I'm VERY skeptical about this technology. I remember the impressions I had of the Wii controller in early tech demos, only to be heartily disappointed with the reality, in terms of precision and accuracy.

    All I could think while I was watching the one girl in the reverse-dodgeball demo was “left leg, knee kick, step, one, two…must…appear…spontaneous!”

  • bgreenway

    I'm pretty sure It wouldn't work with a flat, two-dimensional image, examples of biometrics are already in use today for things much more sophisticated than home security. Even so, sure that might not be the level of functionality everyone's comfortable with.

  • Bjarki Gudjonsson

    I agree, I think there are a lot of great possibilities with this tech. Home security, however, I don't think is one of them. I don't want someone to walk up to my house holding up my picture and being let in on facial recognition…