A while back, Microsoft announced that they were hopeful their new Kinect - a new cordless and controllerless motion sensor add-on for their Xbox 360 line of games consoles - would be shipping with full ASL functionality, enabling deaf people to be able to interact with one another through their consoles. Of course, its primary use will be to use with games, but it still would have been an interesting first for a games console.
However, to keep manufacturing costs down while maintaining a reasonably price tag for the finished product, Microsoft have chosen to downgrade the video hardware inside the Kinect from a 640x480 pixel camera (which would be capable of recognizing the movements of individual fingers, which is key in understanding ASL) to a 320x240 pixel webcam, which sadly isn't up to the job.
From the article:
Unfortunately, in trying to cut costs, hit a $150 street price and still maintain a decent profit margin, Microsoft supposedly opted to use cheaper, less capable cameras, which can only recognize limbs. They also offloaded some of Kinect’s processing from the camera-bar itself to the Xbox 360 console itself. Microsoft hasn’t confirmed this is all true, but if so it suggests the first-gen hardware will never be able to support ASL.
A shame for all deaf gamers out there, but Microsoft have yet to convince me that the Kinect - along with most of the other motion sensor add-ons for consoles - is much more than a fad, just as 3D is at the movie theatres...