Sometimes it is fun to go off-topic, so I figured I’d talk about my first experiences with XBOX Kinect. I ran out to Best Buy last night wondering if they would have any Kinects and to my pleasant surprise, they had plenty of them available for purchase. I bought one and took it home and set it up right away. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with the thing, but all of the videos I had seen of it in the past looked pretty cool, so I had to get one. It’s pretty simple to attach to the XBOX. Just plug it into the USB port in the back and plug the power supply in. Once I turned it on, the XBOX downloaded a pretty big update automatically. When it was finished, it walked me through some basic calibration of the device’s camera and microphone.
I have to say this is a pretty cool device. One of my goals in getting the device was to make the XBOX 360 so easy to use that anyone in the family could handle it. I definitely think that well help. When you first turn on your XBOX, it still boots up into the XBOX Dashboard. However, the mic is always on listening for your voice commands and you can wave at it. I’ll talk about waving in a second, but simply saying “xbox kinect” will bring you into the Kinect Hub which lets you interact with your XBOX using Kinect. The Kinect Hub is the primary place you will be when using the Kinect outside of a game. You can interact with it using your hand or by giving it voice commands. Just say “xbox” and it will show you what you can say to it. Just about any text on the screen can be activated by voice command. I’ll talk about all of the content available in the hub in a bit.
Waving at the Kinect is the most common gesture you use to get it’s attention. Once you do that, you can simply hold your hand out to move a pointer on the screen. To select an item, just hover over it for a second and a white circle will form around the icon indicating that you are selecting it. It reminds me a lot of the way you used to bring up context menus on old Pocket PC devices. You interact with menus by holding your hand out and waving things right or left to scroll. It might take some getting used to, but it’s a pretty good experience.
One of the first things you will probably do is set up Kinect Id. The Kinect Id is associated with your XBOX Live gamer tag. This is where things get cool. You first start by training it to recognize you. It has you perform a series of gestures using your arms. It also has you twist a little bit and move around the room. Once it is finished, you can test it out. Simply walk in front of the Kinect and wave and it will sign you into XBOX Live. When someone else needs to sign in, they just wave at the Kinect and they get signed in. Effectively it recognizes your face and what you look like to determine which user is using it. My 8 year old went through the routine and it had trouble recognizing him, but I think it is because he squirmed too much during the training. We’ll try it again tonight and see how it works.
There are a few Kinect applications available for download once you get everything set up. Selecting each one will cause a download and an XBOX update. The ESPN application is pretty cool. It ties into ESPN3.com and provides a great user experience. It allows you to scroll through live content as well as highlights. I was pleasantly surprised that there is actually live content on there. At the time, there were a few college football games on, I selected it and I instantly had a game streaming to me. The video quality wasn’t bad either. I’m definitely looking forward to trying this application more.
Last.fm also has an application on there. Surprisingly I have never tried last.fm before last night. Pretty neat I have to say. It allows you to pick stations and create your own right through the XBOX. I was even able to create a new account using the XBOX. When you are streaming music, it also displays relevant pictures on the screen in a slide show. It looks like a great application to use when you want something to listen to.
XBOX live has let you steam movies and TV shows for quite some time. In the Kinect Hub, this is branded as the Zune marketplace. I have to say the interface is really slick. As you scroll through, movies, TV, or music videos, it starts a live full screen preview. Click an icon to buy or grab the icon on the side and slide to the left or right to see the next video. I still think the prices are too high for most content on XBOX live. TV shows are usually two dollars and movies are four dollars. However, they charge extra for HD (usually a dollar or two). This makes most movie rentals six dollars, which I think is too much. I guess you pay for convenience. They also charge two dollars to watch a music video. This surprised me since it seems like most videos are already out there on the Internet for free.
The last application worth mentioning is probably the video chat application. The Kinect has features to track where you are so you can just sit on the couch and have a video conversation with someone across the world. It ties into your live messenger account for contacts. Applications don’t really run in the background on an XBOX so I’m not sure if you are in some other application if someone can send you a video call or not and it will switch over. I wasn’t able to really try the application out because I don’t have any friends… on XBOX live. I’m going to work on that though.
All of that is pretty cool, but hey guess what, you can use it to play games too! It comes with a game called Kinect Adventures. Effectively it is a series of mini-games which shows off the abilities of the Kinect. I played it for about and hour and I was thoroughly exhausted. The game has you kick, punch, strafe, and jump up and down. One mini-game that was particularly fun was white water rafting. You controlled the raft by leaning and strafing. You could also jump in the air to make the raft come out of the water. Another mini-game had you jump and duck to avoid things. I didn’t do so well at that. Maybe I am just getting too old. One thing is for sure, you won’t complain that your kids aren’t getting exercise by sitting around and playing video games with this thing.
All in all, it’s a pretty cool device and I recommend getting one. I was a little disappointed that there are still things in the XBOX dashboard that aren’t Kinect enabled (i.e.: Netflix), but my guess is that more things will use the Kinect over time. I’m looking forward to seeing what else I can do with it tonight.