Microsoft downgrades Xbox 360 Kinect hardware to lower costs

It looks like the initial version of Microsoft’s Kinect motion-sensing add-on for their Xbox 360 console isn’t going to be quite the device everyone had initially anticipated.

Pressured by manufacturing costs that would have them taking a loss on each unit sold, Microsoft has chosen to downgrade Kinect’s hardware in favor of lessened financial risk.

Microsoft downgrades Xbox 360 Kinect hardware to lower costs

The original Kinect patent filed by Microsoft suggested that the device would be equipped with a 640×480 camera with the ability to understand American Sign Language.  The final production model replaces a pricey hardware chip with a software solution which, in addition to saving Microsoft money, reduces the performance of the device.

While the lower-resolution 320×240 camera will still recognize the motion of player’s limbs, it is not fine enough to detect finger movements. And if the Kinect won’t detect intricate hand motions, speculated lip-reading capability is definitely not a possibility.

“We are excited about the potential of Kinect and its potential to impact gaming and entertainment. Microsoft files lots of patent applications to protect our intellectual property, not all of which are brought to market right away. Kinect that is shipping this holiday will not support sign language,” a Microsoft representative told gaming blog Kotuku.

The question now is whether consumers will be put off by the device’s “dumbed down” camera while it keeps its $150 price tag. A quick look at the comments accompanying Kotuku’s article definitely aren’t favorable.

Though the statement made by the Microsoft rep seems to indicate the possibility of a higher-quality Kinect in the future, such a release would likely be dependent on the device’s initial success this holiday season.

The Kinect won’t ship until this November, but retailers like Wal-Mart are already offering money-saving presales bundles with a game and gift card included. Still, this isn’t quite enough for me to add the device to my holiday wish-list. Will it be on yours?