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Microsoft’s XBox Kinect is getting in your face in 2012 with a "near mode" for close-up interaction – and is getting hardware-ready for Windows PCs.

The Kinect's near mode will come into play following a firmware update next year that will allow the depth camera to see objects at a distance of 50cm accurately and with what Microsoft has called “graceful degradation".

The change will massively narrow the current living-room sized operational range and “enable a whole new class of ‘close-up’ applications”, Microsoft said here.

Near mode has been one of the most requested features from developers and companies participating in the Kinect for Windows pilot program, as well as among those manning the Kinect forums, said Microsoft Kinect for Windows general manager Craig Eisler.

Also, according to Microsoft, the sensor will be tuned to work better with PCs.

"We’ve been asked whether there will also be new Kinect hardware especially for Windows. The answer is yes; building on the existing Kinect for Xbox 360 device, we have optimized certain hardware components and made firmware adjustments which better enable PC-centric scenarios," Eisler said.

"Coupled with the numerous upgrades and improvements our team is making to the Software Development Kit (SDK) and runtime, the new hardware delivers features and functionality that Windows developers and Microsoft customers have been asking for."

Among other changes in Kinect 2012 are a shortened USB cable for reliability on a broader range of computers and a small dongle to make it literally "fit in" with other USB peripherals.

Microsoft’s BizSpark business incubation and start-up program, meanwhile, has been dragooned to the Kinect cause. The BizSpark Kinect Accelerator will select 10 tech-oriented companies using Kinect on Windows or Xbox360 for a $20,000 award each. Submissions for Kinect Accelerator are open until 25 January, 2012. ®

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