This is a bit creepy

Well, this is very impressive, but also a bit weird. As you no doubt know, Microsoft recently launched its new Kinect add-on for the XBox 360. Kinect can track your body's movements, creating the potential for all sorts of cool new games involving dancing, sports, and, for some reason, petting little animals.

Kinect has been a smashing success, selling over 8 million units for Microsoft in 2010. And now it's got a whole new use altogether. Microsoft just announced AvatarKinect. No, it's not a game of the bloated 3D 'masterpiece', it's a new social function.

As well as tracking your arms, legs and head, Kinect can now also track your facial expressions. That's right: frown, smile or grimace, and your XBox 360 Avatar frowns, smiles and grimaces with you.

We presume that games will have access to these features - imagine an RPG where instead of occasionally choosing an answer to a question a character asks you, the character will simply respond to your spontaneous facial expressions! For now, though, the main use seems to be social. The AvatarKinect program creates virtual meeting-rooms where you and your friends can meet for a virtual confab. It's like the 1990s heyday of virtual reality!

It's hard to explain, but this video, courtesy of GameSpot, should help.

Incidentally, that guy at the start? That's the avatar of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. If you've ever seen a picture of the real-life Steve Ballmer, you'll notice that AvatarKinect can take a few pounds off you.

This is all very impressive, but we don't really see why a virtual conversation is better than a group video call a la Skype. Or, you know, actually going out and seeing people.

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