The Kinect Review - Our Final Word
Written Wednesday, November 03, 2010 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Kinect is kind of a big deal for Microsoft and they're putting a lot of their eggs into its piano black glossy basket, enlisting Cirque du Soleil for its massively overblown reveal at E3 this year and ploughing an excessive amount of cash into promoting the device to casual and core gamers alike. But it's non-gamers that could be enticed by Kinect's controller-free vision, removing the barrier that arguably prevents gaming sceptics from even considering ever turning on an Xbox 360.
The future is here – if you're suggestible enough to believe all of the Kinect hype – and buttons and analogue sticks are out, voice-recognition and motion control is in. From the perspective of a hardened console gamer however, Kinect arrives with mixed prospects, where on one hand the technology is remarkably exciting, but on the other, the line-up of games announced thus far seems to be firmly aimed at an audience that you might not necessarily associate with Xbox 360. Microsoft is clearly shooting for a slice of the lucrative casual market then, but can it succeed?
On paper, the technology crammed into Kinect's shiny black shell is genuinely impressive, and despite rumours that the capabilities of the device have been stripped back and reduced for launch, there's one thing that's evident from the very moment that you step in front of Kinect, and that's that it works... and it works well. In fact, it's quite a feat of functionality. Easy to set up, and intuitive and accessible enough for a small child, complete gaming virgin or desiccated grandmother to grasp within seconds, Kinect's user interface is clearly and logically laid out and simply makes perfect sense.
Signing in is a case of merely setting up the camera's facial recognition and then waving your hand, at which point Kinect will see your gurning phisog, know it and log you into your account, with your new, more human-proportioned Avatar. In the bottom-right corner of the dashboard, there's a heat-sensitive image highlighting active appendages in purple, so if it's all working properly, you'll be a sexy white silhouette with glowing lavender hands. Kinect also makes constant adjustments to optimise its set up, tilting and tweaking itself to ensure that it always has its eye on you. Scary, but cool.
So, let's take a look at what's going on behind those ominous, watching Kinect lenses. First of all, there's a multi-array microphone that can pinpoint and recognise your voice, while cancelling out ambient noises, meaning that you need never get your fingers dirty pressing buttons ever again. Simple voice commands can turn your Xbox 360 Kinect dashboard on and off and saying “Xbox” brings up a clear command menu at the foot of the screen. For the Zune movie and music players, these equate to play, stop, rewind and fast forward, as you'd expect, and you can also skip scenes or scan through an entire video's time line with a stroke of your fingertip. It's not quite Minority Report levels of interaction, but it's scarily close.
That brings us neatly onto the sensors themselves, which do a bang up job in tracking a spectrum of gestures, from slightly more subtle motions to broad strokes of your arms, legs and the rest of your body. In games, this obviously enables you to run on the spot and jump to leap hurdles, swing your arm to bowl, do some Tai-Chi, steer a raft careering down some rapids or stroke a tiger cub, but for movies it enables you to seamlessly navigate through streaming video quickly and easily. Something to show off to your friends if nothing else.
If all of this sounds gimmicky so far – and let's face it, it's nothing a controller can't do, really – then perhaps Kinect's video chat might win you over. Seeing Kinect's video chat in action made us sit up and take notice, as Kinect is able to actively track you as you talk, so you can walk around the room, blathering away and you'll be kept in the frame. Sit down next to another person in the room with you, and Kinect will switch in a heartbeat to frame both of you on-screen. That it works across PC, MSN and mobile devices is a massive tick in the plus box for Kinect, and a genuinely useful function.
Voice chat has also been upgraded for Kinect, with added clarity, and the voice-recognition is advanced enough to distinguish broad regional dialects with a pass rate in the high 90s percent-wise, according to Microsoft. Last FM, Sky and Xbox Live's other services have all undergone revamps to support Kinect functionality too, so you'll be able to bark orders like a maniac in some capacity at almost every one of the applications on your dashboard.
It might have been subject to a variety of troublesome teething problems during its development, but Kinect has come out of the other side, arriving as a highly sophisticated and quite remarkable bit of kit. Its changes to the Xbox 360 user interface while largely perfunctory and are nothing that you can't achieve with a standard controller, manage to impress in an “oh wow, I'm living in the future like Minority Report” kind of way. And there's no doubt that you'll favour using it over a controller if you have access to it, even if it does border on being a novelty.
Ultimately however, it's the games that will make or break Kinect, as fundamentally there's no faulting the quality and capabilities of the technology itself. Microsoft has managed to deliver on its promise of controller free, erm... controls, as the device is both responsive and user-friendly and does offer proper 1:1 motion tracking as far as we can tell, with no apparent lag [Ed – Rich is referring to the device, as opposed to the software].
The only question left to answer then is, if the controller-free technology is all present and correct, is it the sum of its £129.99/$149.99 price tag? As we've already noted, that's to be decided by Kinect's line-up of games, which have a lot riding on them to justify the device as a shrewd purchase. However, as far as the tech goes, whatever concerns we had prior to the final build are nothing but a distant thought now as all of the creases are seemingly ironed out.