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Xbox's Kinect: hands-free gaming in large living rooms

By Rob Pegoraro

Microsoft's Xbox 360 video-game console got a little easier to use at 12:01 this morning. That's when the Redmond, Wash., firm began selling Kinect -- a clever accessory that takes the Xbox's controller out of the hands of gamers.

Where the Xbox's usual remote device sports 14 buttons and joysticks to direct the action onscreen, the $149.99 Kinect uses a set of video sensors to track your movements -- allowing you to act out whatever action you want to see on the screen.

It's like gaming on Nintendo's Wii, just without the risk of pitching a Wiimote into your TV screen. And with a few extra issues of its own.


Setting up a Kinect on an Xbox 360 (both loaned by Microsoft's PR department) was not the smoothest experience. After plugging the Kinect into one of the Xbox's USB ports and a separate power outlet and downloading the first of multiple software updates, its setup routine revealed a positioning issue: When I nestled the Kinect into the space between my HDTV and a soundbar speaker, it couldn't see my feet.

A dusty VHS tape turned out to be just the right size to elevate the Kinect for unobstructed vision, as confirmed by this message on screen: "Kinect can see you. You look great!"

A second issue then materialized: Kinect needs an unobstructed "play space" six to eight feet from the TV. Even after moving the coffee table out of the way, my living room barely qualified.

But once configured -- and after downloading an additional software update for each of the four games I sampled -- Kinect got fun in a hurry.

In Kinect Adventures, the title Microsoft includes with the Kinect itself and its $299.99 and $399.99 Xbox-with-Kinect bundles, I stepped from side to side and jumped up and down to steer a raft down a river, then waved my arms and legs to throw and kick a ball at stacked blocks in a fusion of volleyball and Breakout.

Kinect Joy Ride had me holding two hands out as if I were gripping a steering wheel to direct a car down a racetrack. (I careened off the road about as often as I do using a conventional controller in any racing game.)

In Kinect Sports, I ran in place, went through the motions of bowling and discus and javelin throwing and pantomimed table tennis and soccer.

And Dance Central ... well, I don't want to talk about that. But I will note that by nailing a mere 6 percent of the dance moves in the one song I tried, I fell below even my own woeful expectations.

Seventeen Kinect titles are available in all.

Dancing aside, learning Kinect's moves wasn't an issue, and the system didn't seem to have trouble keeping up with me in each game. It was, however, easy to step out of the play space or bump into furniture.

There's also the risk of people looking at you funny -- something to think about if your living room features street-facing windows. For a hint of what passersby could witness, check out the photos and video clips most Kinect games take, and which you can then share with friends who don't have enough blackmail material on you already.

Kinect can also log you into your Xbox profile automatically if you set up its optional Kinect ID face-recognition system. After holding various poses in different spots on the floor (what did I say about looking ridiculous?), this software had learned my face and then logged me in on its own.

Kinect doubles as an alternate user interface for some of the Xbox's own software, but it doesn't shine in that role. It's sci-fi fantastic to be able to select a function by moving a hand in the air to slide a hand cursor over an onscreen button -- or to speak a simple command like "Xbox: play disc" to the Kinect's microphone -- but it's easy to navigate to screens in which Kinect gestures no longer work and you must pick up the Xbox controller. Finally, the motion sensors' accuracy sometimes appeared to degrade when I had to select objects toward the edges of the screen.

Have you attached a Kinect to your own Xbox? What's your review of the setup so far?

By Rob Pegoraro  | November 4, 2010; 6:10 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets, Games  
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Got 2 of the devices... Set the first up in the bedroom. Girlfriend wanted to play it while sitting on the bed. Even though she was on her knees it insisted she had no "feet" which technically was true but what if you really had nothing below your knees? She was able to get most of the functionality out of it thought except in kinectimals she couldn't teach her kitty to spin. It's definitely a standup experience but it seems to me that training a "cat" shouldn't require you to stand 100% of the time to make it work well.

I was impressed how well it kept up with her even thought at times she was squatting or sitting on her legs.

Posted by: awood28211 | November 4, 2010 7:40 AM | Report abuse

The "comments" link at the bottom of the blog entries used to have a count, now they don't. Makes it impossible to know if someone has commented recently.

Posted by: wiredog | November 4, 2010 8:00 AM | Report abuse

I live in a third floor apartment. If I get Kinect, I'll have to be selective about what I play.

Posted by: Ghak | November 4, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

The most amazing part of this story is that you still have VHS tapes lying around.

Posted by: bittermelon | November 4, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Apparently Microsoft / Kinect has not made provisions for handicapped people (like those who are wheelchair-bound) to use their product. I would dearly like to see Kinect allow people who are chair-bound to effectively use the product.

Posted by: ruffpost | November 4, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

"Kinect can see you. You look great!"

Clearly, yours is broken, Rob. :->

Posted by: TheBorg | November 4, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Bought an xbox 4gb/kinect bundle today with several games. The kids just love the soccer game, volleyball, bowling, track and field events in Kinect Sports. The wife loves Fitness Evolved game. On the other hand, I dig Fighters Uncaged. Certainly something for everyone! The kids also love video chatting with their friends and playing the games along with their friends via internet. It's such a free experience not being tied to a controller and feeling like you're actually part of the game.

Posted by: JimBroersma | November 4, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

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