Microsoft's new gizmo, the Kinect motion sensor, kinda freaks me out. The Xbox 360 attachment, in stores as of this morning, looks like a misshapen replacement head for Johnny 5 from Short Circuit, with three camera lenses staring forward like robot eyes. Once set up beneath a TV, it can automatically tilt up and down to adjust its aim, an unadvertised feature that made me leap in surprise. I walked up to it and asked, "Are you sentient?"
Seemed like an appropriate start to our relationship, as my half-day with Kinect has already proven more interesting than the first brushes I've had with any other gaming device. The wow factor surpassed my first touch-screen tap with the Nintendo DS, my first bowling flick on the Wii, or even my first childhood leap with Super Mario Bros. I've joked a lot with friends about Kinect's promises—"You are the controller," "Play with your body," etc.—but here I am, using my feet in a soccer game, my upper body strength in a fitness title, and every motion possible in a dance sim.
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Kinect captures all of this motion with a two-camera tandem—a basic webcam and an infrared sensor—to track bodies and details in 3D space. Arms and legs can matter as much as side-to-side and front-to-back movement.
After years of behind-closed-doors hype and increasing publicity, the big question can finally be answered. Does the $150 Kinect work? Short answer: yes. Long answer: well...
Expect a more in-depth look at Kinect and its launch games early next week. This many full-body games have been a lot to take in for only five hours of use—which, I should note, have been interrupted many times to relax, hydrate, and stave off a headache. (If you're wondering, I'm a fit guy who works out and gave up his car for a bicycle.) I need more time to play, ponder, and pop pills.
I've already come up with a few confident assessments. For starters, your gaming room of choice is not big enough for Kinect. My living room comfortably seats nine people around an HDTV to watch movies or play, er, non-Kinect games. As per Kinect's demands, we had to shove the TV against the wall, prop the sensor on a box, remove the center table, and re-angle the couch. That gave us eight full feet of distance and eight feet of wingspan for two users to be clearly seen by the cameras. Practicality, quite frankly, makes this a no-sell for families who'd rather not pay $150 to redecorate.
Barring that hurdle, Kinect gets the basic job done. In menus, you wave a hand at the screen to point, like the Wii's remotes, only instead of clicking a button, you keep your hand upheld for a full second to choose something. The wait gets annoying, but it's not a dealbreaker, and unlike the Wii or Playstation Move, Kinect adapts extremely well to both sunlight and darkness. (In some menus, you can opt to speak aloud. Say "Xbox" and then a specific phrase, like, "Xbox, sign in," and your request loads. This works well and requires no vocal calibration. Hello, future.)