Photography by Mark Hagan
What better way to open CES weekend than with a keynote by Microsoft, led by the magnificently mad bull named Steve Ballmer. Microsoft has performed well on most notes, especially so with their gaming division (in the States, anyway). Mr. Ballmer wasted no time christening this CES 2011 with words of the Xbox 360, Kinect, and Xbox LIVE.
After an initial introduction, the lovable mad man turned things over to Kinect hot-shot Ron Forbes, who gave us some old and some new. As this is a weekend about making news, let's not concern ourselves with the old stuff, instead focusing on what we can look forward to for Microsoft's gaming juggernaut: a lot of Kinect integration, specifically to Zune, Netflix, and Hulu Plus.
The oft overlooked Zune feature was made to look quite slick in its pairing with Kinect, both by way of gesture and voice control. Speaking in a fluid conversational tone to his Xbox (as many Kinecters can already attest to), Mr. Forbes was able to initiate a few awesome features. The combination of gesture and voice allowed him to quickly and effortlessly receive suggestions of new movies available in the Zune application, from there allowing him to watch trailers, then jump right into the movie from the trailer. In his horrible taste, Mr. Forbes happened to be in the midst of a Twilight: Eclipse viewing, which he was able to jump right back into and resume from where he previously left off, without ever picking up a controller. More of the same was done with Zune music, albeit not as impressively as the video function. We saw a little more of the same being done with Netflix and Hulu Plus, however not as in depth as what was displayed with Zune, understandably so.
Digital Ballmer's hand movements are as convincing as the real thing
Moving right along, Ballmer reclaimed the stage in avatar form, in his likeness with the same lack of hair, and a mysterious lack of girth. As he spoke, his avatar's mouth kept up with his words. Its facial expression changed to mimic that of its owner. A laugh, a frown, all portrayed convincingly by Ballmer's digital image, right down the the most minute detail; a wiggle of the eyebrows. The audience was then treated to the realization of this Avatar Kinect. A party chat, which seemed to be set at a tailgate, featuring half a dozen avatars talking to each other, interacting, seemingly living and breathing. An awesome next step for the technologies. This was mentioned to be free for all Xbox LIVE Gold subscribers, with no mention made of the elephant in the room, Xbox LIVE free memberships.
More was seen and said, but none as important as Kinect's next steps. Did you know Kinect has sold 8 million units world wide? As of this writing, I am NOT a Kinect owner, but this presentation has intensified my necessity for one. And for my sports fans, the ESPN3 app that I labor over to keep you satisfied will see new social integrations, such as mini-games and added avatar interactions. Look for the College Bowl Showdown in your ESPN3 app to get a sneak peek at what to expect.
All in all a strong showing from Microsoft's gaming division. No groundbreaking revelations, but genuinely interesting advancements to keep current customers locked, and entice those who may have previously doubted Xbox and Kinect.
Is Steve Ballmer gonna have to choke a b*tch?