Microsoft's Kinect for Windows wasn't the only gesture control system to tout "near mode" this CES. SoftKinetic offers an alternate solution with an eye towards OEMs, and this week it released a public alpha of new firmware for its DepthSense 311 that it claims will detect finger movement from as close as 15cm (vs. Kinect's 50cm) and as far away as about three feet. Those numbers seems about right; SoftKinetic let us try out the firmware first-hand in two applications — a barebones tech demo that showed exactly what the software was detecting, and a "puppet show" app that let you control two cartoon puppets with ragdoll arms — and detection seemed to work fine within the stated range. The puppets could to and fro, nod their head, twist around, and open their mouths when you un-balled a fist. The twisting mechanism didn't work perfectly, and touching your hands together resulted in rather weird behavior, but it's still an early alpha build — many of the kinks will be worked out in the next several months, although we won't know for sure until the final release.

We also had a rather brief look at the upcoming DS320, with a higher-resolution QVGA depth sensor, HD video, and a wider 73-degree field of view. No word yet on the availability fo the new hardware, but firmware should be finalized by mid-year.