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Depth-sensing camera looks like a contender

CNET's Ina Fried tries out the prototype system, which enables people to use their hands to control video games--no controller needed.

I like video games. I'm just not particularly good at them.

I have decent hand-eye coordination, but I'm not really good at remembering that passing is A and shooting is B or that sort of thing. That's why I love the Wii. For many games, I no longer have to remember that stuff. I can just do whatever it is I am supposed to do.

Recently, I had a chance to check out an approach that takes that a step further. The ZCam, the depth-sensing camera from 3DV Systems, lets you control a video game or a PC's menu commands with nothing but your hands. The company showed it in a sample boxing game, as well as controlling a real flight combat game, but there seems to be a wide range of games that could benefit from such an approach.

Like the experience I had when using the Wii, gaming using the 3DV is instant fun. There was almost no learning curve. I enjoyed boxing a computer opponent. Even just hitting a punching bag over and over was quite fun.

I would be shocked if this type of technology, in some form, didn't make it into the next generation of consoles or potentially as an add-on to current consoles.

There's a CNET video that shows the technology firsthand, as well as a story that went up earlier Monday.

Microsoft has used 3DV's camera in its labs. At this year's TechFest--Microsoft's internal science fair--researcher Andy Wilson showed how the technology could be part of a next-generation surface computer.

It already works with Vista, as that is the operating system that 3DV officials used in the demo. 3DV Vice President Tomer Barel used the camera to control Vista's Media Center and also to flip through open windows using Vista's Flip3D.

The technology still has a little ways to go. It's only at the prototype stage and won't be ready to go into volume production until next year. Barel said the company hopes that costs come down enough so that the camera could fit into a $70 bundle with a game, though pricing will probably be up to whatever company or companies decide to partner with 3DV.

3DV, which has 40 employees, is based in Yokne'am, Israel. The company, fresh with $15 million in venture financing from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and other investors, is also looking to set up a Bay Area office.