XBOX Kinect – First Impressions

Kinect? What’s that?

Xbox Kinect SensorI’ve had Microsoft’s new Kinect Sensor on pre-order from Amazon for months now.

For those who may not be aware of this “revolutionary” new gaming peripheral for their Xbox 360 games Console (and with all the hype centered around the release of CoD: Black Ops, you can be forgiven); the Kinect is a 3d video camera attachment that can map points on the player’s body, allowing controller-less playing of Kinect enabled games.

In layman’ terms, it turns your XBOX360 into a kind of next-generation Wii, without the fiddly nunchaku and better graphics.

Of course, it does more than this; Its built in microphone is designed to allow voice control of the XBOX console as well as in game chat.  XBOX Live Gold members can even use video chat to communicate with their Kinect using friends.

Why get one?

Kinect - Fresh From AmazonI’ve been looking to get a Nintendo Wii Console for some years now; I’m vastly overweight for my height and age, I’ve always hoped that this kind of active gaming would help me lose weight (in combination with going to the gym and a healthy diet of course).

My problem with getting a Wii is that I enjoy the games that are available for the latest generation of games consoles; actually I enjoy playing games on my XBOX, forget other consoles. I was gifted an XBOX 360, many years ago, by a close a friend and have an extensive library of games for that platform. By acquiring a Wii I would be opening myself up to a new market of games, most of which don’t seem to have changed since the days of Nintendo’s GameCube.

I actually intend sticking to the standard fare when it comes to gaming. The sensor comes bundled with Kinect Adventures, which isn’t normally my cup of tea. The only other Kinect game of interest to me is Your Shape: Fitness Evolved from Electronic Arts. Depending on my success with that title, I may branch out next year into EA Sports Active 2.

My promise to myself is that I play at least an hour a night on Your Shape. After an hour on Your Shape I can then choose to continue with any other gaming activity, Kinect based or otherwise.

Better still, the Kinect games I do have can be played with my Partner; although she is greatly looking forward to playing Dance Central, which is more than I can say for the game.

What’s in the Box?

Kinect - Inside the BoxMy own Kinect arrived yesterday whilst I was in my weekly management meeting.  Its arrival heralded with a distinct lack of pomp and ceremony, when compared to the hullabaloo that Microsoft have drummed up over the past few months.

Once out of the meeting, my colleagues and I carefully opened the packaging.  A faint part of me thinking that, if the thing doesn’t work or proves itself to be a bag of bobbins, I can get it straight up on eBay and make my money back.

In the box (and out of it), the device looks splendid; all shiny black plastic like my TV.  The packaging was fairly unique but easy to disassemble without damaging it.  Satisfied that everything was there I packed it all away and put it on one side until I returned home.

Is it easy to Install?

Kinect Postcard 1Now I’ve been expecting the Kinect for a while now. I’ve checked everything that Microsoft have told me to check. I have clear space for around 8 square feet around my TV and the lighting is now good (I have a very dark living room). With that in mind, setting the Kinect up was relatively easy.

I had hoped to mount the sensor on top of my TV, however the sensor does not come packaged with any means to do this. You can buy an official 3rd party mount from Play.com for around £29.99. I just settled for placing it on the TV stand.

The sensor comes with a generous length of USB cable and a power adapter for those of us who don’t have the new slim XBOX360. So placing it a distance from your console is not going to be an issue.

The continuing setup was just a matter of booting up and inserting the Kinect Adventures disk, to update the console with the relevant Kinect drivers; I’m sure this will be appreciated by users who have no desire to connect their console to the Internet to download the relevant updates.

A quick wizard and the Kinect has confirmed my “play space” and allegedly remembered my identity. By the end of the night I discovered this to be false but more on that later. My play space was confirmed to be ideal for single player gameplay and I was warned that I may need to move back a couple of feet for two player high jinx.

What is it Like to Play?

Postcard 2I decided to save the Your Shape game for another day and started straight into Kinect Adventures. All in all it was an amusing game, I was happily corralled into the single player “play space” and had a few photos taken through the game. As soon as the game finished I checked out the photos that had been taken and tried to upload them. Uploaded pictures and videos are sent to www.kinectshare.com, where they are retained for 14 days.

The upload process isn’t as intuitive as I had hoped, I’ll admit to being a bit slow on the uptake with Kinect’s use; in my defence, the brief guide that comes with it isn’t all that informative.

To upload the pictures I had to hover my hand over the upload button and then select the images to upload by hovering my hand over them. The intuitive (to me at least) way of doing this is to select the image you want to upload and then hover over upload – silly me.

I’ve played two of Kinect Adventure’s game styles so far.  Some kind of Raft thing and a sort of violent volleyball where you smash boxes with volleyballs; the latter is quite addictive, once you’re used to it.

What about the Speech Recognition?

Postcard 3I found it difficult to get out of Kinect Adventures and back to the dashboard.  This is where the Kinect’s speech recognition comes in handy.  With a quick:

XBOX! Dashboard

I am taken back to the XBOX dashboard, although I now have to switch my controller back on to navigate the dashboard.  I do find it a little annoying that the Kinect only controls the Kinect Hub part of the dashboard and not the standard dashboard.

I don’t particularly like the Kinect Hub either.  Everything is all blocky and big.  I like the smooth layout of the standard XBOX dashboard.  I can understand why it has to be blocky but it isn’t aesthetically pleasing.

I took the opportunity to try Last.fm using the Kinect as a controller, having heard that it is now Kinect compatible.  After a short update (and entering my login details again) I found the Last.fm interface greatly improved, if not a little cut down, with it’s own Kinect integration.  I also discovered that I could use German commands – although this may just be my voice.

XBOX! Zuruck!

Had the same effect as:

XBOX! Back!

Of course, when I tried to demonstrate this to my partner, it wouldn’t repeat so maybe I imagined it.

By and large though, the combination of motion and voice to control the interfaces is a really good experience.

Video Kinect; How Cool is That?

Postcard 4Finally I decided to chat with my partner via Video Kinect.  Video Kinect allows me to chat with other Kinect users or people logged into MSN Messenger just like I’m using a web cam.  Even better, the Kinect will track me as I move around, zoom in when I’m close and out when I sit down (on the settee I had to move back to play games on the Kinect in the first place).

It was a bit of a flop.  The image was both grainy and jerky, just like you’d expect video chat to be; disappointingly so, when compared to the adverts I’ve seen for Kinect.  It also seemed to struggle with the feed from my partner’s net-book (her Brother’s actually but that’s not important right now).  The net-book didn’t fare much better with displaying the feed from the Kinect.  This could be down to my home network though, we’re both connecting via wireless to our meager 20mb Virgin Media broadband.

A quick look through my friend list and I can only see one friend who has a Kinect, I may get more over time (sounds like I’m some kind of loner) so it’s probably not a feature I’m going to use regularly.

Overall, I am still a little nonplussed by the Kinect.  I love the technology, I’m just a little underwhelmed with what has been done with it so far.  That being said, I know that there will be ongoing developments from Microsoft and games companies; I am pleased to have picked the Kinect up early on, if only to show support for a great piece of technology.

I’m looking forward to trying “Your Shape” out over the weekend and there are some great titles planned for Kinect, namely the Star Wars Kinect game coming out next year.

What Games Are Available Now?

PostcardThere are quite a few games on release, not especially diverse but at least there is some variety in the selection:

Kinect Sports: This appears to be a Wii Sports style game.

Kinectimals: Fondle your own pseudo-tiger; I’m not sure how the price on this is justified but kids will probably love it.

Kinect Joy Ride: Like Mario Kart, without Mario… or Karts. It looks like a fun game but I’m pretty sure I’d get bored of it quickly.

Motion Sports: Yet another sports game.

Sonic Free Riders: Sonic! Without controllers! Wowsers! Actually, this looks like Mario Kart, without Mario or Karts but with Sonic characters and hover boards… mmm! Hover boards.

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One thought on “XBOX Kinect – First Impressions

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