Kinect for Windows has been one of the coolest projects that Microsoft is personally involved with. Windows applications being built using Kinect continually impress me more so than any games that use Kinect on the Xbox 360. It speaks to the power of the Kinect platform as an interface.
With that being said, Microsoft has updated the Kinect for Windows SDK and Runtime to version 1.5. The updates adds a host new capabilities and tools to make building Kinect-powered programs easier. The updates range from new tools like Kinect Studio to new languages in Kinect's speech recognition.
Starting with the new tools, developers can now play around with the above mentioned Kinect Studio. It allows developers to record and play back Kinect data. This should make testing easier since you don't have to have the person perform the movements over and over again.
Microsoft has released a set of Human Interface Guidelines that detail best practices when creating Natural User Interfaces with Kinect. On a related note, the Face Tracking SDK is now available. It tracks head position, location of eyebrows, shape of the mouth and more.
The skeletal tracking capabilities have been greatly enhanced with this release. The biggest update is the addition of Seated Skeletal Tracking. One of the major problems with Kinect on Xbox 360 is that it can't detect movement very well when the person is sitting down. With Kinect for Windows, it can now detect a 10-joint head/shoulders/arms skeletons while ignoring the leg and hip joints.
Skeletal Tracking has also been added to Near Mode. It supports Default and Seated tracking modes. The idea here is that Kinect can be used to track movement in applications that involve displays which people need to interact with on a personal level.
Performance has seen improvements with the mapping of a depth frame being sped up to five times from the last update. The Kinect device will also keep depth and color frames in sync with each other. The RGB image quality has also been increased with 640x480 now running at 30 FPS and YUV 640x480 running at 15 FPS.
Adding in a feature from Kinect for Xbox 360, it's now easier to build applications that allow users to control 3D avatars. It does this by providing Joint Orientation information for the skeletons being tracked. The Joint Orientation is offered in two flavors - Hierarchical Rotation based on bone relationship or Absolute Orientation using Kinect Camera coordinates.
Kinect is also becoming more internationally minded with Microsoft releasing four new language for speech recognition - French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese. They also released new language packs to support different dialects based on region. This is especially important for English as Kinect has to contend with differences between the U.S., Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
Finally, the Kinect for Windows hardware is now launching in Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. It will be available in 15 additional countries (mostly European) in the following months. Microsoft is a global company so I wouldn't be surprised if they had Kinect for Windows hardware in every major country by the end of next year.
It really is exciting to see Kinect for Windows being supported like this. I was concerned that Microsoft would treat it as just a side project to their big money maker - Kinect for Xbox 360. I have been proven wrong, but it wouldn't have been possible without the amazing support that Kinect for Windows has so far received. To see some of the amazing things people are doing with Kinect, check out the Kinect Accelerator finalists.
To download the latest SDK and Runtime, just hit up the Kinect Developer page. It's easy and free. You can't beat that combination.