One of the most anticipated video gaming peripherals of the year is Microsoft’s Kinect for the Xbox 360. Originally announced at E3 in June of 2009 as Project Natal, the Kinect sensor, which is a motorized set of cameras and microphones, allows you to control games with body gestures and voice commands. So unlike on the Wii (for which you need Wii Remotes) or with PlayStation Move (for which you need Move controllers), Kinect requires no extra hardware to control your gameplay.

Microsoft launched Kinect with a $500 million marketing campaign that kicked off with a launch party in Times Square in New York City on November 3, 2010.

Kinect launch party in New York City. (Photo by Shawn Morton)

In addition to the sensor, Microsoft launched Kinect with 13 games in the United States, including Kinect Adventures!, Kinect Sports, Kinectimals, and Dance Central.

Specifications and features

  • Outputs video at a frame rate of 30 Hz
  • A ranging limit of 3.9 – 11 feet
  • An angular field of view of 57 degrees horizontally and 43 degrees vertically
  • Tilts as much as 27 degrees up or down using its motorized pivot
  • Two cameras to recognize players and track movement
  • Four microphones for capturing voice commands
  • Connects to any Xbox 360 via USB and requires its own power adapter
  • Tracks up to six people simultaneously
  • Includes the Kinect Adventures! game
  • Price: $149 at various retailers, including, GameStop, Best Buy, and more
  • Photos: Spotlight: Kinect sensor for Xbox 360 and Microsoft Kinect: The software launch lineup tested.

(Note: If you don’t already have an Xbox 360, you can choose from two bundles: Xbox 360 with a 250 GB hard drive and the Kinect sensor, which retails for $399.99, or Xbox 360 with 4 GB of memory and the Kinect sensor, which retails for $299.99.)

What I like

  • No controllers: The best part about Kinect is that you don’t need to buy or use controllers to play games. As Microsoft’s marketing suggests “you are the controller.”
  • Precision: Because Kinect users multiple cameras to track your movements, it is very precise. Whether it is throwing a javelin, steering a raft, or working out in a fitness game, Kinect does a great job at accurately recognizing your body position and movement.
  • Strong launch titles: Microsoft did a good job of having some compelling launch titles to support Kinect. Dance Central, Kinect Sports, and Kinectimals all do a great job of showing off what Kinect can do while providing engaging gameplay.
  • Hardware support: Kinect can be used with any Xbox 360 whether you bought it at launch in 2005 or just last week.
  • The potential: While the launch titles are generally strong, they just scratch the surface of what game developers might do with Kinect. It will be interesting to see what types of games are available this time next year.

What I don’t like

There isn’t much I don’t like about Kinect after using extensively for a week. There are some minor annoyances that are worth mentioning.

  • Gestures take time to master: Kinect requires you to perform specific actions, like waving at the sensor to engage with it or hovering over an item to select it, that take some time to master. This isn’t really any different than the learning curve you face the first time you pick up a Wii remote.
  • Motion gaming introduces new challenges: In order to reduce accidental selections, there is a progress indicator that lets you know you’re about to select something. That means that when you do want to select something, you have to wait a few seconds to complete the action. In others words, the system is designed to prevent errors, so even once you get the hang of navigating, you still have to deal with the built-in time delay in the UI elements.
  • Facial recognition doesn’t always work: One of the cooler features of Kinect is the ability to automatically log a player in based on a scan of their face. Once you scan your body and create your Kinect ID, you should be able to simply wave at the sensor to engage it and then have it log you in. I’ve found that this feature works about half the time. Lighting conditions seem to have the biggest effect. Microsoft suggests calibrating your Kinect ID using a variety of lighting conditions.

Geek bottom line

Microsoft has managed to leapfrog Nintendo and Sony in terms of motion gaming. The Kinect sensor allows you to play games and engage with your Xbox 360 console in ways we haven’t seen before. And most importantly, it is a lot of fun.

Geek gift score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: *****
  • Geek factor: *****
  • Value: *****
  • Overall: *****

More about Kinect on TechRepublic and GameSpot

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