Microsoft Kinect For Xbox 360 – In Depth Review
As you might have heard, Microsoft released a fancy little accessory to the Xbox 360 known to the world as Kinect. Microsoft has managed to hype up this little machine with a $500 million dollar marketing campaign to make sure that moms, dads, children and pets all know of the magic that they are bringing to the world of gaming.
In the weeks before launch, the hype engine was brought to full speed ahead, with giveaways from Oprah, demonstrations of Dance Central by Ellen DeGeneres, and finally came to bear with a midnight launch at Toys ‘R’ Us in Times Square.
Was it worth the hype? Let’s find out.
The New Dashboard
A week before launch, Microsoft introduced a new dashboard to fit better with the new theme of Kinect. It’s slick new looks keep it more clean and streamlined and easier to read than ever before. And with all of the new additions (I’ll get into that in a minute), Microsoft once again increases the value that they put on owning an Xbox 360.
The Tech Behind Kinect
Kinect uses three cameras and four microphones for identifying the player and their environment, as well as noise cancelling to make sure that the device is listening to you, and not the ambient noises in your play space. The first of the three cameras is a simple, RGB camera like those of webcams that perch above your PC. The RGB camera captures information at a VGA resolution of 640×480, which is actually much lower of a resolution than that captured by modern day cell phone cameras.
The next two work in tandem for depth sensing and motion capture. An infrared projector fires tiny dots of infrared light into a play space and is captured by the CMOS camera. The infrared allows information to be captured in a wide range of ambient light. It’s been demonstrated that the infrared beams can actually be seen with night vision goggles.
The four microphones in the Kinect sensor serve a number of functions, they allow your voice to be heard for voice commands in the Kinect Dashboard, and can also serve as a microphone for Video Kinect, Microsoft’s video chat app, and for use as a mic while gaming. It also serves as a noise cancellation array to cancel out the ambient noise in the room, so if you have a fan running or an air conditioner it will cancel that out, making it easier to listen for you. Likewise, it determines the sonic layout of the room and listens for your speakers during the setup to better cancel out that noise as well.
All of this sits on top of a motorized pedestal that tracks you as you move around your play space. It automatically adjusts it’s viewing angle for the person in front of the camera to ensure that it can see its entire subject while playing.
Going The Distance
In order to ensure that you have enough space to play with Kinect, you do need to put a little bit of thought into it. Although the Kinect manual says you need a minimum of 6 feet, its optimal distance is around 8 feet from the unit. You can recoup a little bit of this space requirement by mounting the Kinect sensor above your TV in the 6 to 7 foot range from the floor, which will give you an extra foot or two of playspace to deal with. Special wall and TV mounting stands for Kinect can be purchased to accomodate for this.
You will also need about four feet of width in your play space for one player, and about 6 to 7 feet to accomodate for two players. Once again, the ideal width would be about 8 feet.
For someone in a small apartment or in a dorm, this may be a problem. While I can understand the need to have this distance requirement for Kinect to make sure it’s capturing you properly, this may be a deal breaker for many people who live in small places or have restrictions in their house.
Setting up the Kinect Sensor is relatively quick and easy. The Kinect sensor comes with cables for both the new 360S model as well as an adapter cable for the older gen 360s. It also includes a Network Adapter cable to move the USB cable for your 360’s network adapter to a front port to make sure you have room in the back for Kinect.
You can place the Kinect sensor in front of the TV, on a shelf, or with the help of mount as mentioned above with the sensor being no lower than 2 feet, or any higher than 6-7 feet. If you have a projection TV, you will want to make sure that the light from the projector is not shining directly into the Kinect sensor.
Once you’ve placed the sensor and power on your Xbox, you will be taken to the Kinect setup wizard. This is an interactive setup that will require you to stand inside the playspace so it can capture where you are comfortable standing. It will also perform sound checks to get an idea of the sound layout in your play space. Once complete, you can either go through the tutorial on how to use your Xbox, or head straight into the Kinect Dashboard.
From here you can set up your Kinect ID. This is how Kinect will recognize you by your facial and body features so you can automatically log in with a wave of your hand. Kinect will walk you through a series of steps, moving to different grids on your playspace and holding different poses as it captures you. It will then associate you with your XBox Live account and log you in to the Kinect Hub (or Dashboard if you prefer).
So what’s new with Kinect and the new Dashboard you ask? Plenty. Aside from the obvious facelift of the controller dashboard, you’ll see new apps available.
Zune Music Marketplace now gives you the ability to stream music direct to your Xbox 360, integrating many of the features available in the Zune PC software, including the Smart DJ and search functions.
Likewise, you’ll find a revamped Zune Video Marketplace with all of the fixins’. The menus are slightly different than before and it took a little bit of time for me to get a handle on where to look for my episodes by network (go down in the menu to find that as well as the search function), but overall I felt the interface was a vast improvement. One catch all however, when purchasing a movie, make sure you double check the SD or HD setting. There’s been a couple of times where I’ve left it to default at HD when I actually wanted SD (not all shows are shot in HD afterall) and lost a few MS points in the process that I didn’t want to spend.
ESPN 3 is now available on the menu (depending on your service provider) with over 3500 sports events available in the coming year. Those of you who are fans of college football and basketball, as well as European football (correctly known as soccer) will find plenty of content for you. As well, if you’re a fan of motorsports, you’ll find a nice selection of NHRA events to watch as well.
For you MLB and NHL fans however, you’ll find content severely lacking. As contracts for these events have been doled out to various networks including NBC and Versus, it keeps people from being able to enjoy live games on ESPN 3 (Thank you Gary Betteman, you greedy son of a [redacted]).
The above features are available from the Kinect Hub as well as last.fm which has a very slick UI for Kinect. But missing are some very popular Xbox applications. Twitter, Facebook and Netflix. Netflix was made available at points in the Beta, but is obviously missing from the go live software. More than likely these applications are being polished up for showtime, but a quick search on the Xbox Forums shows that many people are rather disappointed that these are not available right from the get go.
Finally, Microsoft has integrated a video chat application into the Kinect Hub called Video Kinect. This allows you to start video chat sessions with other Xbox users or MSN Messenger users. The video quality is about the same as a standard webcam, but sound is actually very much improved over the old voice chat codec, which has been since updated for crisper, clearer sound and does quite a good job.
Kinect for Xbox 360 comes with the game Kinect Adventures. Kinect Adventures has a number of different activities or “Adventures” that you can partake in. Rallyball, which is a 3D version of Breakout involves your entire body as you hit balls down a hallway into different types of bricks to break them. River Rush is a game where you head through an obstacle course on a raft to collect medals. Reflex Ridge is a platforming obstacle course where you dodge, leap, and step aside various obstacles while collecting medals.
20,000 Leaks and Space Pop have you plugging leaks in a glass case and popping bubbles in outer space, while quite possibly the most annoying game ever, Living Statues has you posing different creatures and recording your voice over it. Not only that, but you can share your highly annoying videos by uploading them to YouTube. I won’t link to it, but you can find a few of these videos on YouTube made by some rather young children saying some pretty vulgar things.
Of course the advantage to this is that I spend more time on Halo than YouTube. So the more time those little brats spend uploading retarded videos, the better.
Kinect for the Xbox 360 has a few shortcomings. Namely the need for space, while understandable in my opinion, can be a dealbreaker for many and my cause some backlash from users if they purchase the product and then find it unuseable because of a lack of space.
The games are very fun and keep you very active and off of the couch, and the device also allows you to interact on the couch to watch videos and music with the use of the Kinect Hub. So it’s a very well maintained balance. However, if you consider yourself a “core gamer”, the lack of core games can be unattractive. While Ubisoft promises to bring Child Of Eden into the fold and EA bringing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 to Kinect, the available library for those more dedicated to shooters and platformers may be disinclined to purchase the device right now.
Missing Netflix, Twitter and Facebook from the Kinect Hub may be a disappointment for others, but I don’t really consider this to be a deal breaker.
Overall, I think that if you enjoy a well rounded repertoire of games, or if you have a wife or family that you would like to spend some good, quality active time with, I think that this is a product that you can definitely invest in.
I’d rate this product a 4.5/5.
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