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Eye spy: Has Sony found its answer to Kinect?

PlayStation 4 Eye could give Kinect developers options to go multiplatform, writes Chris Scullion

Tucked away during last night's PlayStation 4 reveal, buried among all the new game announcements, hardware specs and controller discussion, was a little device that could actually have a surprisingly big say in the outcome of the next-gen console war - the PlayStation 4 Eye.

[PlayStation 4 - All the news | All the facts | Every video of all the games | Official pictures | PS4 Specs]

[PS4: All the news | All the facts | Every video of all the games | Official pictures | PS4 Specs]

The PlayStation 4 Eye is the successor to the PlayStation Eye, and the EyeToy before that. There's one very crucial difference, however - whereas previous Eyes were essentially little more than souped-up webcams with motion and colour detection, the PlayStation 4 Eye is a long bar with two cameras built in.

That second Eye literally adds an extra dimension to the PlayStation 4's player recognition abilities, since it lets the device use both cameras to track depth and figure out where a player is standing in the room. Yes, just like with Kinect.

The immediate reaction to this should be obvious - the PlayStation 4 Eye isn't just there to read the LED bar on top of the DualShock 4 controller and allow for PlayStation Move-type motion controls. It's also there to challenge Kinect, and attempt to offer the same sort of depth-based controller-free gaming Microsoft has been promoting for the past few years.

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The PS4 Eye can tilt up and down, much like like the Kinect does

To some this may seem like a bold move. There are many who will claim that Sony is once again simply copying a rival's idea, an accusation cast when it released its Wii Remote-alike the PlayStation Move. But the potential for this new device is significant.

If rumours are to be believed (and, considering most of the PS4 ones from similar sources were spot on, they probably are), the successor to the Xbox 360 is likely to be packaged with an improved version of Kinect as standard. Kinect didn't immediately take off among "hardcore" gamers, and as such the lion's share of the Kinect library consists of family-friendly, "casual" titles.

This has led to a vicious cycle in which the core gamers don't want to buy Kinect because its games don't cater for them, while developers don't want to add Kinect features to their core games because only a fraction of core gamers own Kinect. But by making the Kinect a mandatory part of the next Xbox developers will know for a fact that everyone who owns the console also owns Kinect, and as result there is likely to be a huge increase in the number of core games with Kinect features.

So by adding a second camera to the PlayStation 4 Eye, allowing it to track depth and - we'd assume - making it compulsory too, Sony is essentially ensuring that these games can be ported to the PS4 and become multi-platform titles rather than Xbox 720 exclusives.

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Of course, at first glance it seems that the PlayStation 4 Eye won't be quite as versatile as the new Kinect - while Sony promises its two cameras can "recognise the depth of space precisely", this will depend greatly on the light source in the room. Kinect, meanwhile, can still be played even with the lights off, as it uses infra-red lasers to track objects (and people) in the room.

The important strategy for Sony is that a fair number of Kinect games in the future will be compatible on PS4.

Also, the Move-like LCD bar at the back of the DualShock 4 also makes use of the PlayStation 4 Eye, and could also be considered an extension of this idea. Many Wii U games in the future will make use of Wii Remote controls, so it's important to Sony that even if it ends up ditching the PS3 Move controller, its new system can still offer a Wii Remote-style control system to allow potential ports of Wii U games.

By adding Kinect-like depth sensing to its Eye, the LCD bar to the DualShock 4 and allowing smartphones to be used as a second screen like a makeshift Wii U GamePad, Sony may be trying to make the PS4 a jack-of-all trades.

Technology and graphical oomph is always interesting but it's the games that sell consoles. PlayStation 4 Eye will give developers more options for games they are developing - and that can only be a healthy thing.

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