Say what you will about Steve Ballmer's swan song CES 2012 keynote (and the ridiculous, mostly made-up hype preceding it), at least we got a launch date and price for Kinect for Windows. It's about time, too: Microsoft released the Windows SDK beta, which works with any Xbox 360 Kinect sensor, last June.
You can lay hands on the Kinect for Windows bundle come February 1 for $249, which...wait, isn't Kinect for the Xbox 360 just $149? $119 discounted (brand new) at places like Amazon? Well under $100 if you pick one up used? What gives?
Microsoft says the Kinect for Windows kit comes with a Kinect sensor (which, if you voted Xbox 360, you probably already own), development software, a one-year warranty, software updates for speech and human tracking and "our continued investment in Kinect for Windows-based software advancements" (hey, give the company credit for admitting flat-out that they're charging us R&D costs).
If you're a "qualified educational user," you can have the thing for $149 "later this year," so if you're a student or educator, due diligence (and patience) should save you $100.
Anticipating pricing backlash, Microsoft writes on its Kinect for Windows blog that it's "proud to bring technology priced in the tens of thousands of dollars just a few years ago to the mainstream at extremely low consumer prices," adding that "[Although] Kinect for Windows is still value-priced for the technology, some will ask us why it isn't the same price as Kinect for Xbox."
And the answer:
The ability to sell Kinect for Xbox 360 at its current price point is in large part subsidized by consumers buying a number of Kinect games, subscribing to Xbox LIVE, and making other transactions associated with the Xbox 360 ecosystem. In addition, the Kinect for Xbox 360 was built for and tested with the Xbox 360 console only, which is why it is not licensed for general commercial use, supported or under warranty when used on any other platform.
The first part makes sense, but without seeing the actual balance sheets, I'm skeptical — I'm not against Microsoft turning a profit, but we're talking a company that's repeatedly bilked its Xbox 360 customers. Remember the $100 wireless Xbox 360 USB adapter? The (still) ridiculously overpriced Xbox 360 hard drives?
Why wouldn't you just download the Kinect for Windows SDK and use your existing Kinect for Xbox 360 sensor (or pick one up used for under $100)? Because, says Microsoft as it twists the knife, Kinect for Xbox 360 "is not licensed for general commercial use, supported or under warranty when used on any other platform."
[Non]-commercial deployments using Kinect for Xbox 360 that were allowed using the beta SDK are not permitted with the newly released software. Non-commercial deployments using the new runtime and SDK will require the fully tested and supported Kinect for Windows hardware and software platform, just as commercial deployments do. Existing non-commercial deployments using our beta SDK may continue using the beta and the Kinect for Xbox 360 hardware; to accommodate this, we are extending the beta license for three more years, to June 16, 2016.
I'd love to see an academic teardown and firmware-level comparison, to determine, as accurately as possible, whether there's any difference between the 360 and Windows-only versions.