Kinect learns a new trick, voice-control in Australia

Microsoft has today unveiled a new voice-recognition update to Xbox using it’s popular Kinect product as well as a new Zune streaming music service.

The voice command implementation Microsoft is releasing in mid-December is no doubt bound to draw much comparison to Apple’s recent introduction of ‘Siri’ a voice based command interface for the iPhone.

Sadly, those who were hoping that they’ll now be able to navigate their way around the Xbox dashboard handsfree may be disappointed, as the commands are currently limited to operation within a handful of Microsoft built applications (primarily the updated Zune Marketplace and games such as Kinect Sports Season Two) and only for a handful of explicit functions.

The new system works quite simply – if you’re watching a movie or listening to music through Zune, you simply say “Xbox” which then triggers an onscreen list of voice-command option. Most basic functionality that you’d expect when watching a video were present, “Pause, Play, Fast-Forward, Stop” and for those who are too indecisive to pick what to watch, there is also a “Pick something for me” option.

The commands worked well with a clear articulate voice in a quiet room, but seemed to struggle as soon as ambient noise or a stumbling accent were introduced. Those with kids running around the home may not want to throw out the remote control quiet yet.

Despite the limitations of the current voice implementation, David McLean – Australian Director of Consumer Channel Group at Microsoft says he’s excited about where the company is taking this technology, and expects to be able to talk more about the exciting developments in voice once Microsoft demonstrates more on it’s upcoming Windows 8 product.

Beyond the new voice-command system, the addition of Music to the Zune content catalogue is a welcome one, although the popularity of a subscription-based music service is yet to be tested in the Australia market. With average broadband speeds slower than in the US, and approximately half of it’s 1.4 million Australian consoles connected to Xbox Live, the new service might not see too much uptake until the NBN begins to penetrate more homes.

In the meantime, at $12 per month with over 11 million tracks in it’s library the Zune Music Subscription service is a pretty good deal if your Xbox sits at the centre of your entertainment system and you’ve the bandwidth to spare.

Those looking to expand their collection of Kinect titles will be pleased to hear that today’s announcement showcased some of the new titles Microsoft are releasing including a surprisingly fun kids titles “Disneyland Adventures”. The most impressive Kinect release was actually Kinect Sports Season Two, which seems to be building on where the first Kinect Sports left off, and using the gestural platform in more advanced ways, whilst still being extremely intuitive to use.

The Zune Marketplace update with voice-commands and subscription service will both be available by mid-december, though you can try out the voice features as of tomorrow with the launch of Kinect Sports Season Two.


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