Microsoft's motion-sensing controller is no loss-leader according to market research firm IHS iSuppli's analysis.
The Kinect for Xbox 360 is Microsoft's bid to respond to the controller incorporated in Nintendo's Wii games console. It seeks to extend the concept of 'immersive' play by using a technology that responds directly to body movement.
For example, a gamer playing a football game in front of the Kinect can control the avatars' body movements, 'kick' the ball or 'save' a penalty with his or her feet or hands. In addition, Kinect incorporates four microphones, which can pick up voice commands.
The device is bundled with sales of the Xbox 360 at a UK retail price of £229 for the 4GB version. A standalone unit is £120.
Kinect consists of a set of visible and IR cameras that capture both 2D and 3D representations of the gamer directly in front of the device. This information is processed by a proprietary onboard image processor from Microsoft partner Prime Sense, and overlayed to the Xbox console as controller locations in 3D space.
From a physical design perspective, the Kinect resembles an oversized motorised webcam similar to those in enterprise video teleconference equipment. However, with only VGA resolution on both the IR (depth) and visible (colour) cameras, the bill of materials ($63.51 - £39.01) reflects consumer electronic pricing rather than that for premium capital goods such as office equipment. Overall component count is 1,088, of which 410 reside on the main printed circuit board (PCB) and 363 on the Image Sense PCB.
The primary cost drivers are the controls and proprietary image processing ICs from Prime Sense and also Marvell Technology. Note however that this analysis does not fully take into consideration licensing fees incurred by Microsoft for using Prime Sense's IP.
'We believe this licensing fee to be fairly significant and it would push the cost of goods of the Kinect – on Microsoft's accounting books – to a figure in line with other gross margins within their consumer electronics products,' says Wayne Lam of IHS iSuppli. 'Microsoft is likely making a profit on the Kinect accessory as opposed to the break-even business model typical of advanced gaming consoles.'
The most prominent hardware features on the Kinect are the optical cameras. Since an IR camera requires an IR source to generate a depth image, an emitter is prominently mounted to the left of the colour and depth camera sensors.
The entire controller is mounted on a motorised pan/tilt platform with a MEMS-based three-axis accelerometer providing feedback controls. Also, the array of four microphones lined along the bottom panel pick up voice commands and, it is presumed, perform active noise suppression.
At the electronic core of the Kinect are the two control and image processing PCBs.
On the main PCB, Microsoft has a Marvell applications processor along with a 512MB DDR2 SDRAM package from Hynix. Also, there are a Renesas USB 2.0 hub controller chip and a pair of Wolfson Microelectronics stereo analogue-to-digital converters to support the microphones.
The Image Sense PCB contains the proprietary Prime Sense PS1080 image processor which performs most of the heavy lifting in 2D/3D image processing required to sense gamer controls. Also on this board is the motor driver for the tilt/pan controls.
Microsoft aims to bring the Kinect to PCs via its Windows operating system. The company is to release an initial SDK to software developers some time this Spring. *
IHS iSuppli provides teardowns for many leading electronics devices. Find out more at www.isuppli.com.