GDC Europe: 3D camera specialists flaunt open-source tool for Linux, Android and smart TVs

PrimeSense: ‘TV the new frontier for Kinect tech’

With Apple and Google proving beyond doubt that smartphones can host legitimate game ecosystems, the company that helped build Kinect has lauded smart TVs as the next development goldmine.

PrimeSense, whose 3D camera technology was incorporated into Kinect, is today urging developers to build motion control applications not for console, but across a range of emerging platforms.

Amir Hoffnung (pictured), application leader at PrimeSense, is particularly hopeful that Smart TVs can open up new lucrative markets for motion control developers.

“The key products in your living room are evolving,” Hoffnung said on stage at GDC Europe today.

“Living rooms now have connected TVs and smart TVs that can run a range of applications beyond TV shows.”

Using analyst data, Hoffnung claimed that while games console sales are strong, TV sales are still booming. He said net connected television sets would offer an increasingly broad range of services, from web browsing to apps and games.

“But all these smart TVs will need a new remote control device, because all these smart TVs need richer and deeper levels of input,” he said.

PrimeSense is not alone in lauding the TV set as a viable future game platform. Cloud gaming group OnLive recently signed a deal to include their portal in future Vizio television sets.

Meanwhile, rumours persist that Apple is preparing to reveal its own range of television sets built on iOS.

Companions to competitors

Hoffnung praised the potential of Smart TVs while demonstrating PrimeSense’s new OpenNI framework – a set of tools that allows designers to build 3D camera games and apps for the smart television set.

OpenNI is positioned as a half-competitor to Microsoft’s own Kinect SDK. Hoffnung said the tools are open-source and can be integrated into all the major game engines, middleware and editors.

The GDC Europe session, held in Cologne, showed Hoffnung build a rough game in fewer than thirty minutes using OpenNI and, by choice, the Unity engine.

And while OpenNI works with any 3D device, particularly Kinect, it isn’t a tool for Xbox 360 game development. PrimeSense instead has built tech for many Microsoft competitors, such as Linux, with Mac OS and Android.

Hoffnung explained the sheer potential of Kinect with a parade of famous hacks – one where players played a giant keyboard with their feed, another where the player was rendered invisible in real-time – but did not flaunt any official games for the device.

Motion control ‘in thirty minutes’

The OpenNI demonstration showed how Kinect tracked the player’s position within the editor via a radar and fuzzy camera-view window. OpenNI can work with a wide range of middleware, Hoffnung said, as well as PrimeSense’s own Nite program, which tracks 14 player joints.

Still with the promise that he would have a working OpenNI demonstration running within half an hour, and after dealing with a few technical gremlins, Hoffnung had built an in-game mannequin that followed his movements with a noticeable degree of accuracy.

After the event, some developers in attendance appeared impressed with the open-source framework, but seemed to have a few reservations.

One asked Hoffnung if OpenNI would soon come with an update to eliminate constant calibration during in-game testing. The developer also asked if the tech would eventually include automatic skeletal tracking. Hoffnung said an update to reflect these issues would be available in the near future.

Another developer asked whether OpenNI can be used for iOS devices such as iPad.

“Not officially, no,” he responded. “But it’s open-source so if the community can find a way to port it to iOS, there you are.”

OpenNI works best with 3D cameras capturing in 720p resolution at 30FPS – a small fact which means a great deal, as therefore the software cannot reliably monitor the player’s fingers.

Hoffnung offered no assurances that this would change, only claiming that games which force players to stand particularly close to the screen would allow fingers to be measured by the tool.

PrimeSense is weeks away from launching its own online developer portal, Hoffnung added.

Known as OpenNI Arena, the new website was described as an ecosystem for Kinect developers. PrimeSense promises that publishers and TV manufacturers will be looking for games and applications to sign through the service.

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