What is Kinect?
We were first introduced to Kinect back at E3 2009, when the man of lies and high expectations, otherwise known as Peter Moleynuex, wowed us into the world of “Project Natal”. At first we were stunned and shocked at Milo, a boy who could communicate with the player in conversation, and the near-creepy way “Natal” was able to understand and scan things into its own digital world. And that was just the beginning…
Facial recognition, voice commands, gesture based menu navigation, heck, those were just a taste of the things that would be coming down the pipeline they said. If only we knew that a year and a half later we’d find out that most of those promises were half-truths and some of them, right out fabrications. How well does it work, and is it as interesting as it sounds — a mechanism that allows you to be the controller?
What’s in the Box
Inside the packaging of the Kinect and its surprisingly rather huge box, includes the following:
- The Kinect Sensor
- Power supply / USB dongle connection
- USB Wi-Fi extension
- Kinect Adventures (Pre-Packaged Game)
- Instructions Manuals
What struck me at first was just how big the actual Kinect device really was. During E3 I had seen it from afar, but I never was up close to it enough to see just how massive it feels. I’m not sure why but I pictured it to be this tiny peripheral, similar to the size of the PS3’s eyetoy. But, boy was I wrong!
Within the instructions manual it explains the different types of setup depending on which model of Xbox you own. However, it should be stated that if you opted to get the Xbox Slim Bundle w/ Kinect, the power supple is not packaged in box since the since the Slim Xbox 360 is already built with a direct plug for the Kinect. Which means that if you decide to take over the Kinect to a friend’s house, or simply use it with an older model 360 you previously owned, you’re going to need to shell out $35 for a separate power supply - yeah, sucks doesn’t it?
Once the Kinect is plugged in and ready to go, and provided you already have the latest software update to the 360 via Xbox Live, you’ll go through a quick setup meant to measure out how big your room is, as well as what the Kinect can expect in terms of background noise.
For optimal feedback and performance, it’s recommended to have at least 6 to 10 feet of playing space measured between you and the Kinect camera - which should also be positioned upright on a level surface either on top or directly below your TV - about 4 feet off the ground. And also, as a word of warning, you might want to have enough space on each side of you if you decide to get two players into action. The proximity of where Kinect wants its players to be seems a bit close, so having some extra arm-flailing room may be just what you need to avoid unwanted injury.
There’s also an optional set up for facial recognition, which is a pretty neat feature that allows you to walk in front of the Kinect and automatically be identified and signed into your personal Xbox account. This setup is a bit timely - taking about 5 to 10 mins - since you’re ordered around the room to stand at different distances, doing all kinds of poses, which is another way Kinect uses to separate you from any others who might come in to play with you.
There have been rumors that people with darker tones of skin are sometimes too hard for Kinect to read, but we tested it and it had no problem seeing our friends with darker complexions. Though wearing thick rimmed glasses, or even sitting down in a dim room at times hindered Kinect’s ability to recognize those who we set up facial recognition for, which is a pretty lame way to cripple a device that’s supposed to be so sophisticated.
Navigation: Gestures and Voice
As soon as Kinect is ready to go, you’ll be brought to your usual Xbox Dashboard. And from now on, whenever the Xbox turns on, Kinect will start up by nodding its head and scanning the room. You’ll notice that there is now a small window on the bottom right of your screen that shows you what Kinect is seeing, and next to that window there will be either a hand or a microphone, which gives you the option on how you would like to interact with Kinect.
By waving your hand from side to side you’ll bring up the Kinect Hub, which is the main station where you’ll use the Kinect hand gestures or voice commands to get the Xbox to do what you want it to, sorta. To make selections with Kinect, you can either place your hand above a channel and “hold it” there for a few seconds until it’s loaded up, or you can say “Xbox” out loud and a black bar will appear on the bottom of the screen that will display valid commands. And sorry, “Xbox off” isn’t one of them.
What’s definitely disappointing right away is that you are confined to using the Kinect controls only in the Kinect Hub. So no navigating through the Dashboard’s Channels, or browsing Xbox Lives’ games demos. Want to try out the Joyride demo you downloaded earlier? Well, to get it started you’re going to need your 360 controller to go to your Games Library and select it from there, since it’s not accessible in the Kinect Hub - ironic, huh?
Oh, and did I mention that Netflix isn’t compatible with Kinect yet? Now what makes me wonder is why did we have this year’s 360 Fall Update then, since wasn’t it released to get everything ready for the Kinect? I mean, Netflix with voice commands is what we were all hoping for, right?
ESPN works exactly the way it does with a controller, only with Kinect you can use gestures and voice to navigate through the same menus.
Watching movie trailers, or just streaming HD episodes of The Guild on the Zune Marketplace however is quite a treat, especially since it’s such a breeze to browse through, yet tiresome since it requires a lot of “holding” and swiping.
Last. FM is the oddball of the group though, since the only way to exit out of it is through voice commands. Also, if you’ve never set up your Last.FM account to the Xbox app then a controller is required to input your username and password.
VideoKinect is simply that; video chat. But an interesting thing that not a lot of people may be aware of is that, while yes VideoKinect can be done Kinect to Kinect, it can also be done with Kinect to someone using Windows Live Messenger on their PC? It’s a nicely added feature that is more than its share of fun to try.
At launch there were over 15 games released for Kinect, however for this review of Kinect I’m only going to be taking a look at the bundled game, Kinect Adventures, and give a short overview as to how Kinect works with it.
Kinect Adventures: It’s the pre-packaged game that comes along with Kinect in the box, and with 5 different mini-games that demonstrate each of the sensor’s many features, it’s full of quality.
Now, we’ve all seen the videos of Ralleyball, but what we hadn’t seen yet was whether or not it was as responsive as we were led to believe when it comes to picking up players’ movements. But there’s definitely about a quarter to a half second delay in what you do and what Kinect sees, which unfortunately does effect the overall experience, since it will be the deciding factor on whether you hit a ball that’s coming right at you, or you missing it entirely by a mile.
It’s not 1:1, but Microsoft swears that it’s no different than the input lag it takes to press a button on a controller, although I beg to differ.
The rest of the games however are all pretty straight forward and don’t suffer too greatly from the needed precision that lacks in Ralleyball. In fact, the game Reflex Ridge was one in which speed increasingly plays a bigger part into the advanced stages, asking you to dodge faster and more frequently at every turn. As I’ve progressed to the “Ultimate” stages, which are pretty darn difficult compared to the Beginner stages, Kinect has always been able to keep pace with what I was doing, no matter how fast or instant my moves were.
In 20,000 Leagues, the purpose of the game is to plug up holes in a water tank in which fish are constantly poking through. By using your hands and feet to begin with, and eventually your whole body with legs, feet, shoulder, knees, and head getting into the mix, you cover over the exposed areas and prevent the tank from filling up with water. The Sensor is quite good at figuring out the placement of all your limbs, including when you have to move your foot forward or backward to step on a hole.
Space Pop requires players to flap their arms to float up in the low-gravity chamber, and to straighten out their body when they want to float down. The object of the game is to pop as many bubbles in the chamber by flapping up or floating your way down to the bubbles, all while deciding to either move forward or backward in the space. Kinect seems to have some issues with this game, especially since you have to move forward at times and its hard for the player to decipher how far they should go forward without moving too far that the Kinect warns them to back up.
River Rush is played by leaning your body side to side, as well as jumping, to navigate your raft through a tumultuous river and acquire as many points as you can. Pick up of your movements is quick, however when it comes to jumping it’s not instantaneous, but I’m not sure if the jumping lag is meant to be there or not since it can be used to your advantage.
There’s also some really cool things that Kinect does outside of the actual games themselves. For instance, if a 2nd player wants to join in they can simply jump in next to the active player and Kinect will recognize it and change it to a two player game on the fly. And with Quick Play and Adventure modes, as well as an Online mode that partners you up and pits you against players around the world, Kinect Adventures is a lot more than just a glorified demo disc included with the sensor. It goes to show that the Kinect wasn’t just all smoke and mirrors — well, there was some smoke, but in the end when it came to it, this game ended up being half decent. Though it does also blatantly put out in front that Kinect isn’t 100% what we (including the developers) wanted, and the lag is something we can all attest to.
So… What CAN you do?
- Play while sitting or while being black.
- Players can jump in and out of games - even when they’re in progress.
- Use specific voice commands to navigate through the limited Kinect Hub.
- ESPN, Last. FM, Zune Marketplace all are compatible with gesture and voice controls.
- You can video chat with friends who own Kinect, or with others on a PC using Windows Live Messenger.
And… What CAN’T you do?
- 1:1 movement. In other words, there’s a highly visible delay in some instances.
- Netflix is not, at the moment, compatible with Kinect.
- There’s voice recognition; meaning Kinect cannot differentiate between players’ voices.
- Voice commands are limited to what is shown on screen.
- Use a Kinect from a Xbox Slim bundle with another Kinect without the sold separately power supply.
In the end, my experience with Kinect was one of both joy and frustration. My happiness came from how seemingly well the games work with Kinect, and how it actually does detect your every move and even recognize you individually with Kinect ID. But my frustration was born from what I was told Kinect would be, then comparing it to what I now have in my living room and realizing they’re not the same thing.
Kinect had a lot of potential, and only the developers of upcoming software and Microsoft know how much further the hardware can be taken. Is voice recognition, complex voice commands, 1:1 movement all just a firmware update away? Or are we forever plagued with a device that only works at 50% capacity when compared to what was originally advertised?
But then again, this feels a lot like how when the iPad came out and how people were so upset that it wasn’t what they had envisioned before its release. Although, this is a bit different since unlike Apple, where nothing at all had been announced nor even teased, Microsoft did the complete opposite and showed gamers what the ultimate Kinect experience would be, only to strip it down to its bare parts and expect us to be happy with the results.
For what it currently is marketed as; a replacement for the Wii that just sits under the TV, the Kinect is everything and more. With better visuals, an easy set up, accessible playability for people of all ages, and not to mention added features such as voice commands and gesture navigation, there’s really no contest that the Kinect is the “wow” product of the moment. There are a few minor hiccups here and there, but there’s nothing I can say that it doesn’t do right, since it works just as advertised - again, just a replacement for the aging Wii.