I've been complaining for a while now that the Kinect isn't accurate enough to work well in various situations, including dimly lit rooms and while the user is within 6 feet of the device. This sort of undercuts various Microsoft initiatives aimed at broadening the appeal of the device. Until now, that is: Microsoft announced today that it will release new and improved Kinect hardware for Windows PCs in 2012.

"There will be new Kinect hardware especially for Windows," Microsoft general manager Craig Eisler wrote in a blog post today. "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 ... the new hardware delivers features and functionality that Windows developers and Microsoft customers have been asking for."

Changes to this new Kinect include:

Better reliability. The new Kinect will include a shorter USB cable, and a small dongle aimed at improving coexistence with other USB peripherals. Microsoft says these changes will ensure better reliability.

Better resolution and depth. New firmware will enable this Kinect to see objects that are as close as 40 to 50 cm from the sensor; today's Kinect requires objects to be at least 6 feet away and, ideally, even further for the best results. A new "Near Mode' will enable a new range of "close up" applications, Microsoft says, taking Kinect well beyond the living room scenarios that are possible today on the Xbox 360.

There's some other information in the post related to developers and promises of future advancements in speech and human tracking. But this alone is amazing news and suggests that the fanciful scenarios it outlined in a recent promo video are perhaps a bit more possible than I originally believed.