Is it real, or is it virtual? Both. A Matterport 3D scan of an apartment. Matterport

Microsoft's Xbox Kinect system brings real people into virtual worlds — scanning people jumping around their living room, for example, to animate characters playing volleyball on a virtual beach.

Now, a company called Matterport is using the technology in the Kinect to turn the living room itself — or even an entire house — into a virtual world.

Looking like a giant potato, Matterport's scanner holds two sensors made by PrimeSense, the company that provides the tech inside Microsoft's Kinect. One sensor is angled upward and one downward, and the device rotates on a tripod to scan everything in about a 15-foot radius. Moving the scanner around the room (or building) produces overlapping scans that the software stitches together into a 3D model of a real place.

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"It's like a first-person-shooter in your home," said Florence Shaffer of Matterport during a demonstration at CES.

The core of the PrimeSense system has two parts. The first is a simple camera that captures colors and shapes. The second part measures depth, using an infrared beam to cast a pattern on objects, and a sensor to measure how the light bounces back. [See also: App Adds Kinect-Like Function to PCs and Smartphones]

Combining data from the two sensors, and using video-game creation software, Matterport produces the kind of 3D virtual environment found in ultra-detailed first-person-shooter games such as "Halo."

At CES, Shaffer showed on screen a virtual model of a five-room preschool, first looking straight down at the floor plan. She then swooped into the building, which became a complete 3D environment, with every chair, drawing or doorway represented in full color and to scale. The computer model even took into account how objects were arranged. While "walking" through the school, Shaffer bumped into a table. She could also jump or crouch down.

While fragging enemies in your living room would be cool, Matterport has more business-oriented approaches in mind for the future. Realtors, for example, could show clients what a house looks like before they visit it. And homeowners who are redecorating could see exactly how that shade of paint would look on the wall or what that new wood floor would really be like.

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Stores could also scan their furniture and make it downloadable. For example, someone could select a couch and place it in their virtual home to see how well it would fit — including with different color options.

Should someone want to, they could even use Matterport's computer model to 3D print their house in miniature, Shaffer said.

Matterport's potato-on-a-tripod setup is a bit awkward, but another is in the works. PrimeSense has come out with a new sensor system, called Capri, that's less than half the size of what's in today's Kinect. With the new sensors, Matterport reckons it can sell scanners that are about the size and price of "a nice digital SLR." The device will go on sale this summer, with pre-orders starting sooner.

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