Launched in the UK on 10 November 2010, the Kinect motion sensor can be picked up bundled with one game or with the Xbox 360 4 GB or the Xbox 360 250 GB.
What is it and how does it work?
The Kinect looks like a big horizontal bar made from shiny black plastic, which means it won't look out of place alongside most TV sets. It's mounted on a motorised base that adjusts the angle of the cameras to detect the position of the gaming area and the players themselves. It can be placed either above or below the TV.
There are three lenses on the front of the device, behind which you'll find an RGB camera and two 3D depth sensors. The depth sensors were developed by PrimeSense and are composed of a transmitter, an infra-red camera and a special microchip that analyses the information received. It's the 3D depth sensor that makes all the difference here, as it allows the device to detect the exact position of players in the room. The infra-red image captured is combined with the RGB image and then analysed by a processing program in real time. This program determines the position of the players' various joints and identifies their exact location in the room. Naturally, this software-based analysis plays a major role in determining the system's responsiveness: image processing that's too slow would result in a noticeable lag between the movements a player makes and the actions reproduced on screen.
The Kinect has two built-in microphones that improve the way the system detects players' locations. They are also used for the voice recognition function. On top of that, four additional audio sensors help eliminate background noise (noise from a fan, a heater, shuffling spectators, etc.).
The Kinect is compatible with all Microsoft Xbox 360 consoles. However, unlike with newer 'Slim' models, owners of older versions of the console will have to hook the Kinect sensor up to the mains with a separate power adapter.
Simple set-up on all Xbox 360 consoles
The Kinect is easy to set up and the installation process is clear and easy to follow. A built-in wizard guides you through the steps, asking you to make all kinds of basic movements to teach the system to recognise you. It's recommended to carry out a more in-depth set-up at different times of day to help the system detect you more easily. The Kinect can actually recognise individual players, which is particularly handy for changing player profiles or avatars quickly.
Once you've completed the set-up process (which only takes a few minutes), you're ready to start playing. A little window pops up in the bottom-right corner of the screen, showing you what the Kinect 'sees'. Note that you're better off keeping the room lit to a minimal level to help the system detect you. If everything is working properly, your hands will be shown lit-up in the preview window. Then, just give the camera a quick wave to bring up the Kinect menu. From here on in there's no need for controllers, as you can do everything with your hands! For example, instead of pressing the 'A' button on the controller, you can select and confirm choices by hovering over the menu you want to access for a couple of seconds. It's easy to use and very quick to get the hang of—it feels almost like being in Minority Report. However, in the current system, we still reckon it's much quicker to navigate though menus with a controller, even if it's not quite as much fun. Note that the console's regular menu can't be controlled by the Kinect motion-detection system, nor the voice recognition tool.
First games are fun for casual gamersMicrosoft's new gaming accessory is supplied bundled with the Kinect Adventures! game, which has mainly been designed to show users what the system is capable of. It consists of several challenge-based games that can either be played alone or in two-player mode. In Rally Ball you have to use your body to hit balls at targets; River Rush sees you steering your way down river rapids in a dinghy; Reflex Ridge is a kind of obstacle course; in Space Pop you have to pop bubbles being fired at you from all directions; and 20,000 Leaks plunges you underwater in a glass tank, in which you have to use your body to plug the holes.
It couldn't be easier to switch to two-player mode either, as the Kinect can automatically detect when a second player joins in the game.
Although you'll work your way through the game very quickly, Kinect Adventures! is a good starter game, as it helps you to get the hang of the Kinect and see how it reacts to actions of varying speeds. At first, we were a bit concerned by the slight lag we noticed in the system, as we didn't find the Kinect quite as responsive as the PlayStation Move, for example. However, there's only a very slight delay between the movements you make and the corresponding actions on-screen and, to be honest, you won't really notice it when you're concentrating on the game. Plus, it'd be a pretty tall order to expect a system like this to reproduce each of our movements simultaneously. In fact, it's important to be realistic here, and Microsoft's engineers have actually done a really good job, as the slight lag has no real negative impact on the overall gaming experience. We do, however, have a few reservations about how the system will handle games that require fast reflex actions (racing games, FPS, etc.).
At the time of writing, the Kinect games on the market are mostly aimed at family gaming or casual gamers. We found that the dancing game, Dance Central, worked really well with the Kinect, but we did find the first Kinect racing game, Kinect Joy Ride, a little tricky to control.
- Great freedom of movement
- Detects the body very well
- Quick to get the hang of, no extra accessories required
- Set it up once and it's ready to use
- Game included
- You'll need to have lots of room in front of the TV
- Responsiveness and accuracy limited in some games
- It feels quite strange to have nothing in your hands
- Not suitable for all types of game
- You'll need to leave the lights on
The Kinect is great for casual gamers and families. The system works well and is a real technological achievement. Just make sure you've got plenty of room at home! The system's probably not suitable for use with all kinds of games, and more serious gamers will no doubt be biding their time to see what the future holds for the Kinect and its range of compatible games.