Todd Bishop on Monday, February 1, 2010, 5:33pm PST

HardwareMicrosoftVideo Games

Presumably the number is more about demonstrating the potential of the technology, rather than an actual usage scenario, but Microsoft today unveiled a keyboard that will read up to 26 key presses at once.

The SideWinder X4 Keyboard aims to provide hard-core PC gamers a solution to the problem known as “ghosting,” in which normal keyboards can read one or two key presses at once but struggle with much more than that. In those cases as if the keys weren’t pressed, which is where the ghosting reference comes from.

Here’s how the technology works, as explained by a company representative:

Most keyboards use a stack of plastic sheets that are printed with silver ink to create a grid of wires underneath the keys (see picture at right). When a key is pressed, a row wire connects to a column wire. This works well when 1 or 2 keys are pressed, but pressing more can lead to problems. For example, if two keys in the same row are pressed and then a third key is pressed in a different row, but the same column as one of the first two, all of those rows and columns become shorted together. There are actually five different key combinations that produce the same shorted rows and columns! Since there is no way for the system to know which set was pressed, only the first two keys are reported, with the others becoming “ghosts” – unreported key presses.

The SideWinder X4 Keyboard is different because a small amount of carbon is printed at each switch site to prevent the key contacts from completely shorting rows to columns (see picture at right). Resistive multi-touch circuitry can then decode each key press independently.

The keyboard draws on the approach used in Microsoft’s pressure-sensitive keyboard prototype, which the company has not yet brought to market. The SideWinder X4 is slated to go on sale for $59.95 in March. CNet notes that Logitech and Razer also have anti-ghosting keyboards for gamers, but at higher prices.

(Adding to my previous post)… and even getting concrete!

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