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Hands on: Without apps, Intel's RealSense camera is a puzzle

Mark Hachman | March 6, 2015
Intel's RealSense camera appear like they could be a viable future for interacting with your PC, but a lack of apps is a real hurdle early on.

Okay, now what?

That's the reaction I had after playing around with--or trying to--Intel's RealSense camera, which Intel provided PCWorld and other journalists on Wednesday night.

Intel's RealSense is actually a family of different products: there's the RealSense "Snapshot," a camera mounted into tablets like the Dell Venue Pro 8000, which can be used for real-world distance measuring. And then there's the RealSense 3D Camera (Rear R200) a rear-mounted 3D camera that looks purpose-built for a Surface or similar tablet. But that isn't available yet, Intel says.

RealSense is Intel's "eye" into the world, a depth camera much like the Kinect camera that was designed for (and rejected by buyers of) the Microsoft Xbox One. It not only includes a video camera, but an infrared projector and laser to better intuit the real world. At the Game Developers Conference, CES, and the like, Intel has showed off a number of applications that take advantage of the RealSense cameras, from "scanning" your face onto a 3D avatar, to games that take advantage of gestures made with your hands. They can either be discrete cameras, or built into laptops and tablets.

But like the Kinect for Windows, this is very early in the game. The hardware might be mature, but the apps are few, far between, and in some cases not fully formed.

Intel provided PCWorld with the original RealSense 3D camera, also known as the Front F200, which carries the label from its designer, Creative Labs. (Remember them?) It flops over the top of your monitor or laptop, using a stiff hinge to balance and secure it. A USB cable snakes out the back to your PC. It normally costs about $100.

To really take advantage of all the intelligence built into the RealSense camera, however, you'll need to download a rather sizeable software development kit, totaling 1.3GB. But that SDK contains all the files you'll need for everything from gesture control to speech recognition. (You'll need to download the camera drivers separately, all from the Intel RealSense page.)

Intel also provided alpha codes to NeverMind, a fascinating psychological horror concept game from Flying Mollusk that taps into the camera's ability to "read" your pulse by examining your face with the infrared camera. Like Inception or The Cell, NeverMind puts you in the shoes of a therapist injected into the mind of the patient, where you root out buried traumas represented by photographs.

There's one catch: the RealSense camera can read your fear, and the game ramps up the difficulty the more scared or anxious you become: increasing the frequency of spikes, for example, or overlaying "static" on your field of view, making it more difficult to see. The idea is for you to learn how to manage stress, both in the game and the real world.


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