Microsoft Kinect gets official, Video Chat announced

You knew it was coming, right? Hot on the heels of getting leaked a wee bit early Microsoft has made official the rebadging of a device desperately seeking a new name: "Project Natal" is no more, replaced by Microsoft Kinect. At a circus- and celebrity-filled affair, MS wrapped everyone in high-tech panchos (pictured after the break courtesy of Joystiq) and then took the wraps off of the new title. Quite a few game demos were shown, ranging from Star Wars to tiger petting, the Kinect interface to the Dashboard was shown (said by some to be Minority Report-like), and a video chat app called, wait for it, Video Chat. Through here you can naturally talk to friends (up to four total people at once was "shown"), and also share photos.

Sadly, no hands-on time was given nor did MS reveal the two crucial bits of information we're waiting for: price and date. Naturally a holiday release is expected, to give the Xbox 360 a nice sales boost, but we're hearing price rumors as high as $150. These choice bits of intel will surely be unveiled at Microsoft's event tomorrow -- if someone doesn't beat 'em to it. The hardware is still looking exactly like the early picture above, shattering hopes of a slimmer design to match new Slim Xbox 360.

Update: We've got official photos now, though solid textual info is still scarce. Stand by!

Update 2: So we're out of the wild, cult-like experience that was Microsoft's Kinect unveiling. Microsoft still has a lot of details to reveal, but there are a few things we gleaned from watching the demos:

  • Almost everything was one person at a time, particularly in the Kinect Sports games. Even a game like beach volleyball or soccer was boiled down to individual "moments" of interaction that get strung together into some sort of competition. Even the running in place games were one at a time, though the river rafting and mining cart games (both with a similar mechanic of jumping and ducking through an obstacle course while picking up tokens) could be played with two people at a time. You can at least play games like volleyball simultaneously with someone else over Xbox Live.

  • An interesting mechanic we saw was a second player "jumping in" to a game. In the mining cart scenario, when the second player jumped in it immediately went split screen, while in soccer different players took turns by just jumping into position. Sure, some of this stuff was edited for our benefit, but it seems Microsoft is working to make the introduction of a second player or the switching between players something less button-heavy.

  • The Star Wars game was pretty badass-looking -- you play a Jedi, rushing down stormtroopers and deflecting laser bolts left and right, wielding a few Force powers, and confronting a certain deep-voiced Sith Lord for a one-on-one duel. Based on the gestures and action we saw, though, it was a pretty heavily scripted experience. Still, there's no scripting a two-handed light saber grip, and that particular action looked like everything we've ever wanted in a Star Wars game.

  • The yoga game is actually a pretty smart use of the infrared and joint detection software we espied previously. Positions were "checked" by points on the joint -- making it certainly harder to fake the moves on Wii Fit -- and it seemed to have a tai chi element to it. Your avatar glowed a more intense red based on your three-dimensional approximation -- bright red for hands stretched forward, for example.

  • Next up: Kinectimals, a baby tiger pet simulator. You can scratch its ears, snuggle, and teach the little guy to jump and play dead. Adorable? Dangerously so. No one can tell us the developer, but based on the lighting effects, art style, and similarities to the previously-shown Milo, we'd wager a guess that it was Lionhead Studios.

  • The Kinect menu interface is about as simple as could be. You wave your hand to control a glowing cursor of sorts, and you push forward to "click" on the element you want. Of course, there's also a very simplified version of the Dashboard to go along with this control mechanism, so it's unclear if you'll be able to do everything via subtle hand waves, but the Twitter, Facebook, Zune and Netflix icons were clearly present.

  • The MTV Games-developed Dance Central has some on staff divided -- only Ross will actually admit to being interested in playing it. A series of dance moves are presented, including elbow jabs, swinging leg, guitar, "rocking out" (with your hand in the air). The art style is akin to Rock Band / Guitar Hero, and to be fair, this is probably one of those games that can't be done as well on any other console.

Update 3: Video of family gameplay and media playback control added after the break. Come on, what else are you going to do until its November retail launch?