Kinect is watching. After a year and a half of hype, speculation, and one big name change, Microsoft's motion-control sensor has finally arrived. Thanks to its lofty promise of true controller-free gaming, analysts expect Kinect to be a pretty big hit this holiday season as it goes head-to-head with competing controllers from Sony and Nintendo.
But forget the projections -- we've had our hands on (or is that off?) a Kinect and a collection of launch titles for a few days now. While it's certainly wowed us with its sci-fi tech, you might not want to ditch your old gamepads just yet. Read on to find out why.
Kinect is a motion-sensing camera for the Xbox 360 that lets you play games, navigate menus and control media using gestures and voice commands. No conventional game controller is needed.
Price: A standalone Kinect unit costs $150. The sensor also comes bundled with a 250 GB Xbox 360 Slim for $400 or a 4 GB model for only $300. Every Kinect comes with a copy of the game Kinect Adventures.
Set up: To use Kinect, you'll need an Xbox 360 (any model will do) and a good amount of space (much more on that later). That's just the bare minimum, though. To really use the camera the way it was intended, you'll also want an Xbox Live account so that you can access cool features like videoconferencing and live, streaming sports via ESPN.
If you happen to own an Xbox Slim, set up couldn't be easier: just plug the camera's orange-shaded plug into the like-colored AUX outlet located in the back of your console. If you have an older model, there's an extra step: you'll need to plug in the USB/power cable into the USB port located on the back of the unit, then plug in the attached AC adapter into a wall outlet. Pop in a game, run through a few simple initial calibration steps, and you're ready to Kinect.
Does it work as advertised?
We're betting you have a billion questions about the sensor's capabilities. Here are a few answers.
Can I navigate my Xbox 360 guide using gestures and voice commands?
But you can't actually control the main Xbox 360 guide using Kinect. You can't wave your hand to cycle through the games marketplace or power your system on and off by yelling at it. It's all constrained to the Kinect Hub, and while that does indeed work, it's not exactly what we were expecting.
Kinect is listening.
Can I really control movies with my voice?
Does it actually mirror your movements?
What about lag?
Does it work while seated?
How are the games?
The Space Issue
For solo players, you'll need to stand between six and eight feet away from the camera for it to work properly. Games supporting multiple players at the same time require eight to ten feet. To complicate matters, the camera needs to be placed between two and six feet above the floor on a flat, stable surface (you can also buy a wall or TV mount separately) located as close to the center of the TV as possible. The system is a bit sensitive to sunlight, so you'll need to make sure it's not catching too many U/V rays. Oh, and the sensor needs to be placed near the very edge of whatever it's sitting on so that the vertical view of the lens is perfectly unobstructed. After all, it has to see your legs, too.
Then there's the space needed to play adequately. You will often be using your entire body -- not just a Wii remote or a PlayStation Move controller -- to interact with the games, so you'll need a fair amount of horizontal space for the camera to track your body as you fling it back and forth.
Put all that together, and there's a good chance you'll have to rearrange the living room by shifting couches, removing coffee tables and generally turning things upside down to get it to play nice. Perfect for the giant, empty rumpus room downstairs, but it can be an interior-decorating disaster if your play space is already congested.
So should you buy one? That depends on your needs. Kinect is best as a showstopping party piece. Fire it up during Thanksgiving, and it will turn even your grumpy Uncle Mark into a delightfully dorky, dancing gamer. It will appeal to both kids and adults in much the same way as the Wii during its initial honeymoon, so if you've got a multi-generational family who game together, it's bound to please -- and since your body is the controller, you won't need to spend extra dough on more gear for more players. But if you prefer to game alone, we recommend waiting until more must-have single-player games are out. Besides, that will give you time to find a bigger house. You're going to need it.