For those that have heard about the new Kinect for Windows being released in a couple weeks, Microsoft has some answers for what “Near Mode” is and isn’t. A good write up.
That caveat turned out to be a pretty big caveat. The Kinect for Windows team spent many months developing a way to overcome this so the sensor would properly detect close up objects in more general lighting conditions. This resulted not only in the need for new firmware, but changes to the way the devices are tested on the manufacturing line. In addition to allowing the sensor to see objects as close as 40 centimeters, these changes make the sensor less sensitive to more distant objects: when the sensor is in near mode, it has full accuracy and precision for objects 2 meters away, with graceful degradation out to 3 meters. Here is a handy chart one of our engineers made that shows the types of depth values returned by the runtime: