Xbox 360 Kinect – Bringing Motion to the Masses

Jon Martin - 2T Civil
Posted on: November 17, 2010

November 4th saw the release of the Microsoft Xbox 360 Kinect camera, Microsoft’s answer to the Nintendo Wii and the Playstation Move. I got the new camera the day it came out, and thought I would write this quick biased review of the peripheral. As it is a biased article it is not part of my regular Future of Gaming column, did I mention it was biased?

Anyway, the Kinect camera actually consists of 4 cameras and several directional microphones, all contributing to the Kinect’s ability to see, track, and listen to the player. Two cameras are depth sensors, allowing the system to ‘see’ you and the surrounding room in 3D, enabling motion tracking and controller free game playing. If you go online and search ‘Kinect through night vision goggles’ you will find lots of videos showing the invisible dots the Kinect projects around the room to gauge distance and shape. The third camera is an infared sensor, also contributing to the 3D tracking, followed by a fourth camera, a regular RGB camera for colour video and photos.

The Kinect camera needs more power than a standard USB cable can provide, so it comes in a couple different packages. The standalone camera package includes an AC power cable and standard USB splitter cable for use with an original Xbox 360. If you buy one of the bundled Xbox 360 S models with the Kinect camera the separate AC cord is not required or included, as the new console includes a port specifically meant for the Kinect. This fact is important for anyone who wants to use the Kinect on a second system, if it isn’t an Xbox 360 S model you will need to purchase the AC/USB cord from Microsoft for about $50 (insanely overpriced).

The Kinect retails for $150 for the standalone camera, bundled with Kinect Adventures, a collection of mini games including Rallyball, River Rush, and Reflex Ridge, inspired by dodge-ball, white-water rafting, and an obstacle course respectively. Another two games are original – and kind of weird games – which place you alternately in a tank underwater plugging the cracks in your protective tank (20,000 Leaks) or up in space in zero G popping bubbles (Space Pop). Hey, I told you they were weird.

I have found the motion tracking to be very accurate, with minimal lag – though that could depend on the level of precision required by a specific game, as well as the early tech that is always a problem in launch titles. The big thing that I have to say about the Kinect is that it is what the Wii was trying to do, but failed. When the Wii launch people were ecstatic about the chance to get kids moving and active while playing video games, then people realized you didn’t actually have to do that. I have heard of seniors homes organizing Wii bowling competitions, but the problem is that you can win the game without actually bowling, just flick your wrist properly. The Kinect, in contrast, tracks your entire body, so when you are playing Reflex Ridge and you have to duck around obstacles you actually have to jump, crouch and shift quickly to avoid them, you can’t just press the right button or flick the controller. This is what motion control should be – though there is always room for more precision through a future motion sensitive controller working in conjunction with the camera.

As for pricing, many have complained at the steep introduction price, as well as the limit of only two active players. But my response to that is to point out the costs of Sony’s Move controller (I said this was biased). If two people want to play a co-op game that requires two handed motion tracking (such as a boxing game) that requires the Playstation Eye camera and four Move controllers – a total cost of $250. That also maxes out the number of Move controllers that can be connected to the system at one time (four) so those games are also limited to two active players. I personally like the idea of buying a single camera and then having that work for all the Kinect games that come out – no need to buy more controllers or any accessories – everything just works.

So that is the Kinect; a new step in gaming evolution, and Microsoft’s first foray into motion gaming. If you’re on Xbox Live say hi (or complain about my biased insults) – I’m Obi Jon1138. Keep on Gaming!