Microsoft's motion and gesture control Kinect peripheral for Xbox 360, while not the gaming revolution Microsoft may have been hoping for, is an undeniably impressive piece of technology. While a version for PC exists, Microsoft seems to be neglecting it as a consumer product, as it is both extremely expensive at US$249, and also unsupported by the vast majority of Games for Windows Live titles (it's also unavailable in Singapore). In the meantime, Intel has been working on its own motion and gesture control input division: Perceptual Computing, creating a US$100 million fund for the project, as well as a US$100,000 app development contest.
The first product announced by Perceptual Computing is the Creative Senz3D Interactive Gesture Camera, co-created with Creative, and first unveiled at Intel's keynote speech at Computex 2013. The webcam is the first to utilize 3D sensing technology which, when paired with Intel's Perceptual Computing SDK, allows for gesture and motion control in a variety of apps and games.
Key Highlights of the Creative Senz3D Interactive Gesture Camera
The Senz3D is large for a webcam, but quite compact overall considering its capabilities, consisting of two lenses flanked by dual microphones. It's about a third of the length of a Kinect sensor.
The camera clips to the top of your monitor or notebook via a weighted base and a small ledge that hangs over the side of your display. It can also stand on its own if you prefer to put it on a shelf or ledge, and there's also a threaded hole in the base if you want to secure it down.
Unlike Kinect, the Senz3D is made for only one user at a time, and it can get confused when multiple people or hands appear in front of it at the same time. It also has a relatively short maximum range of just 1 meter.
Included with the camera is a software bundle that has games and utilities that let you take advantage of the camera's 3D sensing technology. Many of the apps involve creative ways of playing with your webcam feed, for example, you can put up a fake background or change your face to that of a few different animals.
Most of the games packaged with the device were developed for Intel's app development challenge and as such are fairly limited in scope. Moogie Mookie is a virtual pet game that lets you play with a virtual critter, Idol Hands is a Black & White-style God simulation game where you control a big hand to pick up villagers and move them around, while Aligned plays a bit like Minecraft where you build worlds with blocks. Some games also accept voice commands through the Senz3D's dual microphone array.
The most interesting game is easily Valve's Portal 2 Perceptual Pack, which can be downloaded through Steam. In this game, you use your hand to control the portal gun to pick up blocks and move them around to solve puzzles. Unfortunately, despite being listed as a 'new standalone game' it's really more of a demo, as it doesn't involve any portal mechanics or plot - in fact there are no actual puzzles to solve, you just pick up a couple of blocks and drop them on clearly visible buttons. The whole thing is over in about two minutes. You can watch the entire 'game' in this short video.
Also included in the pack are the four DLC maps originally designed for the Playstation Move peripheral. However, playing through these maps highlights a problem that has always been prevalent with motion control games - you still need a physical controller (in this case, the keyboard) to move your character around. Many Kinect games circumvent this issue by just having character movement be automated rail-style (e.g. Star Wars Kinect), but it certainly limits the types of games that can be played with motion control. Unfortunately, the Senz3D is not compatible with the main Portal 2 game, so this is all you get for now.
While we were impressed by the degree of control displayed by the Senz3D camera, which accurately tracked depth, a variety of hand motions and even the number of fingers we held up, in-game controls were a bit frustrating, as it took a while to get used to making small adjustments without wildly affecting the corresponding in-game action. For some games like Moogie Mookie this wasn't really an issue, but for games like Portal, where you need more fine control, it's definitely easier to just use a mouse. Additionally, in a game like Portal where you still need one hand on the keyboard to move around, holding the other hand up to control the portal gun feels very awkward - going half-half with motion control just doesn't work.
At S$269, the Senz3D is a hefty investment, and for now at least, it's just not worth it. More apps and games can be downloaded from Intel's app store, but currently its full of the same kinds of silly mini-games that the Senz3D comes packaged with. The Portal 2 Perception pack is an interesting demo of what can be done with the Senz3D but honestly may not have been the best choice, as it really doesn't add any immersion to the game and, if anything, just makes it harder to control.
The best Kinect games are still multiplayer party and exercise games, as these tend to work best with motion control, however, due to the one user and one meter restrictions of the Senz3D camera, these are all but ruled out in this case.
Which leads us to ask, what would the Senz3D camera be good for? We can see it being useful as an air-touchscreen of sorts for those on Windows 8 OS but without a touchscreen monitor (or for anyone unwilling to dirty or reach forward far enough to actually touch their touchscreen). Being able to swipe scroll in mid air to scroll down a webpage would also be a nice option. We could also see it being very useful for anyone with a 3D printer - it just needs a good modeling or sculpting app to go with it.
Overall, the Senz3D is an impressive piece of hardware and it definitely has the potential to be more than a gimmick - we just feel that Creative and Intel's current direction with it is perhaps not its best use. There are other (much cheaper) ways to fake a Skype background image or pretend you're a dog, and motion gaming has a limited audience at best, which makes it unlikely that any big titles will be released on the platform. However, with the right tools and applications, the 3D sensing camera is accurate and precise enough to be a handy input device, and we hope that future apps are developed with this direction in mind. For now though, just consider it something to keep an eye on.