Project Natal will adapt its sensors to your room, reassures Microsoft

Project Natal, the Xbox 360's controller-less motion-sensing device, will work in rooms of all sizes, following confusion over space requirements

Patrick Steen Special to CNET News
3 min read

Project Natal, Microsoft's motion-sensing Xbox 360 camera, will work in rooms of all sizes. The device's sensors will read the depth and configuration of your room, adjusting its play space on the fly, Microsoft has revealed. So big or small, cluttered or minimalist, Natal should work in all households.

This was in response to fearful reports that 4 metres of clear space from your TV was necessary. Such a requirement would rule out most living rooms in Britain and certainly gaming-obsessed Japan, where swinging a cat is nigh-on impossible.

Technology Web site Techflash caused the kerfuffle, reporting from a briefing at Microsoft's Redmond campus earlier in the month. The article leads with the statement that an area of "at least" 4 meters in front of your television is needed.

This prompted a number of headlines stating that the Xbox 360's controller-less Project Natal would require a mansion to work efficiently. This is despite a second sentence within the same paragraph noting that 4 metres is the "back edge" of the space taken into account by Natal's sensors. Doh.

Microsoft was forced to clarify the matter, telling CNET UK: "The comments recently about the play space for Project Natal were misinterpreted. We know that living rooms come in all shapes and sizes, and have conducted numerous play tests to ensure everyone will be able to jump off the couch and into the fun when Project Natal launches globally this holiday."

Our interpretation of Techflash's report is that Natal will sense movement within a space of 4 meters deep, 4 meters wide and 2.7 meters high. That last dimension allows even the giraffe-like Peter Crouch to get in on the controller-free gaming experience Microsoft's technology promises to deliver.

This prompts a sigh of relief for us Brits, as the UK has the smallest room sizes in all of Europe. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) found that the average Greater London room measured 15.8 square metres, just below Natal's rumoured requirements. 

No doubt many Natal games will require your entire body to be in view, which already limits how close you can be to your TV. This is a problem Sony's PlayStation Move, which features a PlayStation Eye Camera and a peculiar-looking motion controller, is not expected to have. A demonstration of the PlayStation 3's technology at Engadget Show Live showed Sony developers moving very close to the screen to demonstrate its 3D depth capabilities -- a feature the Nintendo Wii struggles to replicate.

Those worried about Natal's accuracy in comparison to, say, the button-rich Wii-remote or the PlayStation Move controller, should also calm their fears. Microsoft added during the Redmond briefing that the system can be used with the console's traditional controllers for further input. But doesn't that dilute the controller-free point of it all?

The device is said to require less processing power than the average smart phone, a relief for developers who may have been dismayed by Microsoft's decision to remove the camera's on-board CPU. As for price, Microsoft's Don Mattrick explained that Natal will be made from off-the-shelf components, keeping costs low and thus the price pretty reasonable. £50 or bust.