At Gamefest earlier today, Microsoft held a panel on their current and upcoming plans for accessories for their Xbox 360 console. Rob Walker, the hardware unit product manager for the company, spoke to the panel and gave some very interesting tidbits and hints about their future plans (and also threw some digs at Nintendo and Sony's controller plans). Walker began by looking back at what Microsoft has released so far, including wired and wireless controllers, the 20 GB hard drive, controller charging kits, A/V cables, TV remote controllers and more. He also touched upon current and upcoming third party accessories from companies like MadCatz, Logitech and more.
Walker then went into the future and talked about things that are on the immediate horizon (i.e. this holiday season) that have already been announced. Microsoft's Xbox 360 racing wheel is a big upcoming product, promising true force feedback support (if you plug in the power cable) and support for current and upcoming titles like Project Gotham Racing 3 and Forza Motorsport 2. Also in the works is the Vision camera which will allow people to have video chat with each other along with features like taking a picture of your face and adding your face to an in-game character, complete with facial animation (no games that support this feature have been announced yet). A wireless headset for voice communication is also due for release this holiday season, as is the much anticipated HD-DVD disk drive add-on. Walker didn't reveal anything new about this accessory that hasn't been revealed before (still no specific price point) but it will still only be used for movie playback and will still hook up to the Xbox 360 via the USB connection. During the Q&A session following the prepared remarks, Walker said that they are still discussing what will happen if the movie companies decide to move to HDMI inputs being required for HD-DVD for keeping copyright protection for their movie disk.
One interesting new product that we had not heard of before will actually extend all Xbox 360 controllers to the Windows PC platform. The Windows wireless adapter will allow people to plug in a USB wireless device that will then load drivers and allow any Xbox 360 wireless controller to work on your Windows PC. There is no price point or release date yet, although we believe it's due out sometime this fall. During the Q&A Walker revealed that Microsoft will not be allowing people to reprogram their button setting with the Windows wireless adaptors.
Walker gave some very vague hints about what might be in the works for future Xbox 360 controllers and accessories in his closing remarks and in the Q&A session that followed. Walker said that the company is considering launching hard drives with more disk space than the relatively small current 20 GB device. They are also considering releasing an A/V cord that will have some kind of HDMI adaptor. Walker also hinted that they are looking at text messaging more closely for future products (maybe an Xbox 360 controller with a QUERTY keyboard perhaps?). Don't look for Microsoft to support a keyboard and mouse for in-game playing of titles like Halo 3, however. Walker was fairly clear that Microsoft's vision of an Xbox 360 living room does not include a PC like set up for in-game controllers (althought it already does support external USB keyboard for things like typing in codes for adding Microsoft Xbox Live accounts and Microsoft points.
It was too good an opportunity to pass up so I decided to ask Walker about future support for motion-sensing controllers for the Xbox 360 in the wake of all the attention that Nintendo has generated with their Wii controller and more recently with the word that Sony will have some motion-sensing features for their PS3 controller. Walker was open about the fact that Microsoft has done testing and prototypes with similar features for the Xbox 360. Indeed. Microsoft made a PC controller with motion sensing features in the mid-1990s and while Walker said it sold better than expected, he admitted that Microsoft could have done a better job promoting the use of the controller to game developers. Walker said that for games like racing and first person shooters, their own tests with Xbox 360 motion-sensing controller prototypes indicated that the users were at first split 50-50 on whether or not they liked the motion-sensing versus the standard analog stick movement. What's more interesting is Walker said that people who played with the motion-sensing prototypes for an extended period of time complained of physical fatigue. He also said that playing with such controllers in first person shooter games (as UbiSoft will have for the Wii in Red Steel and their Far Cry port) doesnâ€™t give you the precise control as you get with a standard controller or a PC mouse and keyboard combo. However, Walker indicated that Microsoft is still considering adding some kind of motion-sensing feature to future controllers and are still experimenting with prototypes, so they havenâ€™t totally written off those kinds of features just yet.
Other topics in the Q&A that were answered by Walker included any support for wireless headphones (no plans) and their plans for the upcoming Microsoft Zune music-video player (Walker indicated that he had no contact with the team in charge of that and flat out said that the audience may know more about the Zune than he did). Overall, the talk was one of the more informative panels we attended at Gamefest and we look forward to trying out some of the upcoming accessories (especially the wireless Windows adapter).