Kinect add-on for Xbox changes the game

Corey Steele, left, races his brother Jaedyn as they try out the Kinect add-on for Xbox 360 at a store in North Carolina.

Associated Press

Corey Steele, left, races his brother Jaedyn as they try out the Kinect add-on for Xbox 360 at a store in North Carolina.

NEW YORK — No, I won't post the pictures of myself that Microsoft's new Kinect add-on for the Xbox 360 snapped while I was using it. A man has to retain some shred of dignity. So you won't see me in my floppy college sweat shirt grinning like an idiot as I land a few uppercuts in the Kinect Sports boxing game. Or leaping to maneuver my raft in the River Rush game in Kinect Adventures. And regarding my moves in Dance Central, well, the less said the better.

Without photos you'll have to take my word for it that the $149.99 Kinect, which turns your entire body into a video-game controller, is a wonderful antidote to couch potato-itis. While it may not satisfy hard-core gamers, for normal people the device is a gas.

It's also something of a technological marvel. Motion-based gaming was pioneered by Nintendo Co. with its 2006 Wii. More recently, Sony Corp. introduced the Move system for its PlayStation 3. Both of those require you to hold or move a controller. The Kinect doesn't — you're interacting directly with the game, which makes for a quite different, and much more immersive, experience.

Microsoft has been working on the Kinect and talking about it for so long that its release felt a bit anticlimactic. At least until I had a chance to play with it, when it became clear that this gadget provides the now 5-year-old Xbox 360 with an entirely new dimension.

The Kinect is a motorized black bar housing a camera, infrared projector, depth sensor and microphones, about 11 inches wide and 3 inches deep, that sits on a small stand. You can place it either above or below your television, anywhere from 2 to 6 feet off the ground. Microsoft recommends putting it on a shelf or other stable surface, though I balanced mine on the top edge of my TV.

Physical setup is a snap: If you've got the latest version of the Xbox, a single cable connects the two products. Owners of older Xboxes must use the included bricklike power adapter.

Configuring the device is more involved. The Xbox prompts you in a sort of Simon Says routine — Stand here! No, there! Raise your hand! Wave! — as it places you properly and learns to identify you. Once it does, Kinect remembers who you are whenever you start to play, even if you jump into a game to replace another player.

You'll need a big area to play in, as every game tiresomely reminds you. Microsoft recommends that a single player stand 6 feet away from the sensor, 8 feet if two are playing. If you get too close in the heat of battle you're prompted to move back until you're again within proper range.

While the game play is smooth, there's sometimes a noticeable lag between your action and the corresponding move of your on-screen avatar. The delay isn't enough to be annoying, and after a while you'll find yourself automatically compensating for it — just ask my table-tennis opponent once I got my timing down on my sidearm smashes. But it does raise the question of how suitable the Kinect will prove for serious, sophisticated gamers, for whom a few milliseconds can be a big deal.

The Kinect adds limited voice recognition, video chatting and the ability to share those pictures of you playing — sort of a stop-action video — with your friends via the Xbox Live online service. New Kinect Guide and Kinect Hub screens act as portals to some of these features — but, unfortunately, also add to an Xbox navigational jumble that's enough to make you nostalgic for Windows 3.0.

But none of those cavils really matter. What does is that Kinect takes gaming to a totally new place — and provides a ton of fun along the way.

Kinect add-on for Xbox changes the game 11/19/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:22pm]

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