Saturday, January 22, 2011

Kinect: One Man's (First) Experience

A long-time friend of mine gave me a Kinect controller for my Xbox as a late Christmas/early birthday present. I didn't get a chance to start playing with it the first day. I guess I have to turn my geek-card in, since I didn't drop my "life" to start messing with it. Then again, having a "life" probably made me forfeit my geek-card long ago.

At any rate, it didn't languish too long - only about thirty-six hours. I couldn't get to it yesterday, when I got home from work, because I was beat and we were going out for the evening, later. I only got chance enough to take it out of its shipping box and place the whole Kinect package/box in my television case before I staggered upstairs for a several-hour nap. After the nap, we got ready to go out, then were gone until around 03:00. I had a Flyers game in Philly that I needed to head out of town for, first thing in the morning, so, I went up to our iceox bedroom and sacked out. After my alarm went off, I staggered downstairs and looked at the still sealed carton. It glared at me as I readied myself for the day's travel and mocked me as I headed out the door. It was still looming in its box when I returned.

Finally, around 22:00, after playing with the pups upon returning home, I set about getting the device set up. I gotta admit, it's a bit nifty. Being able to control my system with my voice and waves of my hands gives kind of a Jedi feeling.That said, it's still very much a new product. It shows signs of being rather cool, but still lacks a lot.

It comes with a video chat functionality. Unfortunately, since it doesn't (yet?) link to services like Skype, you can only video chat with other Kinect owners. There aren't a lot of them right now - at least, not in my circle of friends. So, this isn't likely to be a useful feature any time soon.

While the device is pretty good at figuring out that there's more than one person in the room, it seems to be confused by pets. In fairness, pets are confused by interactions with the Kinect. My cats seem convinced that my waving about is an invitation to them to come be petted. Cats suddenly appearing in what the Kinect sees as control points (my hands) causes the Kinect to sort of lose track of things.

The Kinect also offers voice-control of Xbox functions. Unfortunately, that control isn't well-integrated into the Xbox modules I like to use. Probably doesn't help that the initial Kinect code release doesn't seem to support much more than the most rudimentary of commands. Right now, it's kind of like the dumbest pet you've ever owned or encountered, only dumber. If it were a pet, you'd have to put a hockey helmet on it.Hopefully, as the product matures and code updates come out, it will receive a larger repertoire of spoken commands. For now, the appeal of the voice commands wears off quickly.

At any rate, I ran it through its setup paces and even played some of the games that the device came with. The games are reminiscent of the Wii Fit stuff, without the worry that you'll destroy a controller-board. The Kinect wants a fair amount of motion-space. My living room is barely big enough. I had to move our ottoman out of the way to complete the setup (otherwise, it would eclipse the Kinect's view of my lower legs, causing the Kinect to render my body-position as kneeling in mid-air). While our living room isn't huge, it isn't as small or furniture-restricted as that of many of my friends. So, bear your gaming area's geometry in mind when considering the purchase.

After playing with it a bit, it started to creep me out, a bit. The Kinect has glowing red and green LEDs on the front. When it's active, it puts a little thumbnail of what it "sees" in a little window on your screen. Combine the cold, dead look of the LEDs and the realization that you're being watched, heard and recognized, and you get kind of a 1984/2001 feeling. I gotta think that, as/if these things proliferate, advertisers and hackers alike will want to make use of the Kinects' capabilities. Yeah, you get a nifty gaming interface, but, you realize that you're starting to sell yet another part of your life to "the machine". While the Wii only has a motion sensor bar, the Kinect has eyes and ears and, for the sake of entertainment, you're potentially making yourself observable, each and every time you turn it on.

Oh well...

At any rate, if they ever fully realize the gaming potential and mature the gesture and voice interfaces, it should be pretty cool (imagine in-game fights if you're playing NHL 2K games over Xbox Live!). If Microsoft gets smart and partners with Skype (and/or others), it will be a nifty communication device to keep in touch with far-flung friends and family. For now, it's going to be a "yay, I have one" affair, but will probably only be used, briefly, each time there's a new code update (i.e., to see "what can it do, now?"). Guess I'll also have to test it with each new game I get to see what it's useful for. I'm guessing for most legacy games, it will simply remove the need to have my headset when I want to trash-talk during online gaming (and, I'll have to figure out how to mute that in unobvious ways).


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