Whatever else we say about Kinect, we can’t deny that it’s a controller with an awesome amount of potential wrapped up in it. Microsoft may be the last of the console manufacturers to have a punt at the idea of motion-control, arriving long after the PlayStation Move and Nintendo Wii, but Kinect is quite possibly the most exciting of them all.
What makes Kinect so tantalising an idea is that it, where PS Move and the Wii limit themselves to just watching your hands as you flail around like a loon, Kinect can watch your whole body. It can watch your feet as you play MMA or football games, it can recognise your face to save you the hassle of signing in and there’s an entire genre of games that could be built on the back of Kinects ability to interpret pelvic thrusts.
More than that though, Kinect can also respond to vocal commands by virtue of in-built microphones. You can boot programs by simply telling your Xbox 360 what you want or placate virtual pets by cooing along to them.
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At least, that’s the theory – the reality is sometimes quite different. Voice commands, for example, only work in Japan, America and the UK at the moment – though Microsoft says it will roll out more support in the future. The facial recognition isn’t quite there either; we were never able to get Kinect to correctly identify anyone over our week of testing. It was never clear what exactly the flaw was either, it just failed to identify us.
That said, the fundamentals do work perfectly. There’s a degree of error if you start twisting into unusual positions, but the cameras are otherwise perfectly able to follow your movements. Kinect is easily able to tell arses from elbows, which is more than we can claim to be able to do most evenings and weekends.
It only really starts to get confused when there are multiple users, or when players start overlapping their limbs or moving about too quickly. Kinect can supposedly monitor up to six players at once, but in our experience each new player increases the likelihood of the system getting confused.
Dance Central for Kinect
Much more of an issue than that however is the sheer amount of space that Kinect requires to work properly. The sensor, which is compatible with all Xbox 360 models, sits either on top of or directly beneath your TV, but from that angle it needs to fit the entire body of all players into view – from top to tip. That means you’ll need a lot of clear space in your living room to get it working. Kinect claims it needs between six and eight feet, but we found six foot was a conservative estimate for the camera to squeeze our six-foot tall bodies into frame.
This immediately presents a rather big problem for a lot of people, as not all gamers are going to have the eight feet of empty space in their living room. If they do then it’s likely to be in front of a couch, which better remain vacant while you’re gaming as onlookers can easily interfere with the game just by their presence. Coffee tables and couches may need to be cleared every time you want to play.
We had to set Kinect up in our lab so that it faced into a corridor, as that was the only way we could get enough empty space in front of the camera lens.