Announced back in June at last year's E3 convention, Microsoft's Project Natal system promises a controller-free console gaming experience. Sort of like an Eyetoy on steroids, the Natal system utilizes a camera, depth sensor, and microphone to provide full-body 3D motion capture, facial recognition, and voice recognition. The aim is to turn a user's body into the controller to provide a more interactive experience.
At their keynote address for CES, Microsoft finally gave their expected release timeframe for the heavily anticipated system. After showing a typical promotional video, Entertainment & Devices Division President Robbie Bach gave the word that Natal will be available by the Christmas holidays this year.
Sometime after this announcement, GamesIndustry got their hands on a bit of news about the system. It seems that Microsoft will be abandoning their initial plans for an onboard processing chip, instead offloading the work onto one of the three Xenon processors in the 360 itself through a software solution. Kotaku learned that this move will have Natal taking up 10-15% of the 360's resources.
The main reasons for this change are two fold. First of all is the obvious cost cut. In addition to this, by going with a software solution, developers will be given more flexibility and updates will be easier to provide. Unfortunately, this addition of resource load onto the console's processors essentially guarantees existing non-Natal games will not be given a compatibility patch.
Microsoft also took the time to announce their new virtual arcade for Xbox Live and Windows Live, the Game Room. Aiming to allow users to relive some of the glory days, Game Room lets players buy vintage games from the likes of Konami, Atari, Activision, and Intellivision to add to their own virtual arcade.
The games are represented by arcade cabinets featuring the original art seen on the real ones years ago. To encourage interaction, Game Room will allow users to visit other people's arcades with their avatars, as well as compete with high score leaderboards. Games are expected to sell for $3-5, with users also being given the option to purchase single credit tokens for 40 MS points.
To learn more about these, and other Microsoft CES announcements, check out their video gallery here.