A 3D sensor that has the same hardware as the Kinect but comes with only an SDK has been launched. And to raise its profile there's a $20,000 developer competition to create games for it.
There is no need to tell you how wonderful and amazing the Kinect 3D sensor is. Without having an official SDK developers have managed to make it do an incredible things and the forthcoming official SDK might take it even further. Now we also have the possibility of using alternative hardware. The Asus Xtion Pro is based on the same hardware produced by PrimeSense that the Kinect derived from. Asus is also a member, along with Microsoft and PrimeSense, of the OpenNI group which is trying to establish standards for using this class of sensor.
The Asus hardware is to be called Wavi Xtion - pronounced "wave-eee-action" and will be available very soon. However if you are prepared to pay a little more than the end user version you can now buy a development system the Xtion Pro - $189 - which includes the drivers needed and a copy of NITE PrimeSense's body tracking and general middleware. Notice that it's a developer edition in the sense that as it has no end-user software only a developer would want to buy it.
The important specifications are:
Effective Distance Between 0.8 meters and 3.5 meters
Development Platform Visual Studio .NET 2008, 2010
Programming Language C++/C# (Windows) | C/C++ (Linux)
Supported OS Win 32/64: XP, Vista, 7 | Linux 32/64: Ubuntu 10.10
The full commercial device will also include the ability to stream video data from the PC to an HD TV so providing the same sort of environment that the user gets with the Xbox plus a Kinect. The PC to TV connection is provided by the Wavi part of the hardware and this can be bought separately an use as just a PC to TV connection.
You can see the Asus promo videos for the Xtion PRO below:
As well as giving developers the chance to buy the device early Asus has also started a competition - the ASUS X-tion PRO Developer Challenge. The first prize is $20,000 and Asus will market your game. The deadline for entries is May 31st and the good news is that you can enter no matter where you live but they have to be in C++ or C#.
As you might have guessed a X-tion app store, ASUS@vibe will open sometime later in the year to market all of the creations.
The early release of part of the eventual hardware with a "developers" kit is most probably a way of trying to get some software for the launch of the full Wavi Xtion. I guess you could say that the hardware is complete but Asus needs some games to package with the consumer product.
So what is the attraction of the X-tion PRO over the hacked or official Kinect?
Over the hacked or OpenNI setup there isn't much advantage in that the main software is NITE. We can hope that the documentation is better in the commercial version but anything you could do with Xtion Pro you could do with the Kinect+OpenNI+NITE setup. The official Microsoft SDK however, when it finally arrives, does have some significant advantages. In particular its body tracking algorithm is superior to that used by NITE and it offers potentially very high quality speech recognition.
It seems likely that Xtion only has a future if Microsoft makes a mess of launching the official SDK in terms of licensing restrictions etc. At the moment only Asus is saying to developers - "use our hardware to make commercial apps, we'll even help you to sell them and here's a competition to sweeten the deal"