Introduction

For better or worse, new user interface is all the rage right now in the console gaming scene. Nintendo was first to the block in 2006 with 3D motion-controlled user interfaces, leveraging a unique combination of IR sensors and 6-axis MEMS accelerometers in a handheld remote. The motion-controlled Wii has enjoyed a nice long run being the sole platform for motion-assisted gaming. Flash forward to late 2010, and Microsoft and Sony both have readied their response to the Wii - the Microsoft Kinect and Sony Move, respectively. 

It’s taken the greater part of four years (and one name change) for the software giant’s answer to make it to market, but Kinect is finally out and ready for mass consumption. We’ve spent nearly a month playing with Kinect and are finally ready to release our impressions.

First off, the Kinect is fundamentally different from Sony and Nintendo’s offerings. Instead of relying on handheld controllers and motion targets, the Kinect uses a purely optical solution which we’ll get to in a bit. The result is that there’s only one thing to purchase to add Kinect to an existing Xbox 360 install - the $149.99 Kinect sensor itself. We purchased a retail kit on launch date, which comes with the sensor itself, cables, some paperwork, and Kinect Adventures. 

Hardware

Packaging for the standalone Kinect package matches the style of the Xbox 360 S packaging - it’s a lot of green and purple. On the box, Microsoft stipulates that you need at least 6’ of free space in front of the sensor to play, which seems a bit optimistic as I’ll show later. There’s an unboxing gallery below in case you want to see for yourself. The Kinect is securely seated in a foam recessed area. 

Inside the box is the Kinect sensor itself, Kinect Adventures, and a suite of cables.

First up is an orange-tipped USB-like cable with a special connector for connecting the Kinect to the Xbox 360 S. This cable is keyed differently than a normal USB cable and allows the Kinect to draw power from the console itself instead of requiring a standalone power supply. 

If you’ve got an Xbox 360 S, this is the only cable you need to use Kinect. The cable physically looks like USB, but the connector inside is visibly different besides the obvious shape difference.

The rest of the cables are for if you’re connecting the Kinect to an older generation Xbox 360. For that, you get a power supply cable which breaks off into a Y connector - one end is orange tipped and connects to the cable coming out of the Kinect, the other goes into your original-gen Xbox 360.

But wait, what about that odd-looking grey cable? 

It’s a WiFi extension cable. Remember that unlike the Xbox 360 S, the older Xbox 360 has just one USB port on the rear, and two in the front. I have an original Xbox 360 Pro from launch date, and also happen to use the Xbox dual band 802.11N adapter to connect wirelessly. If you’re using a setup like this, you’re going to need to run a cable from the wireless card - using the extension cable- all the way around to the front of the box and into one of the front USB ports. It’s an unaesthetic solution that’s an unfortunate consequence of the old Xbox 360 simply not being designed for all these accessories. It’s a bit disappointing there isn’t a hub involved somewhere here like what Microsoft did with the ill-fated HD DVD player (which included a notch and USB port on the back for the displaced wireless adapter), but perhaps bandwidth considerations over the USB hub contributed. If you’ve still got a Microsoft HD DVD player kicking around and connected, things could theoretically be getting very crowded with daisy chained USB devices. With an old Xbox 360 and Kinect hooked up, you eat up two power ports, and with a wireless adapter, are left with only one available USB port on the front for connecting controllers and USB storage. If you’re like me and have your profile stored on a USB drive (so you can migrate from box to box, ostensibly) you end up using all those ports. 

With the Kinect connected using the power supply, I measured a total power draw of 5 watts, which is pretty respectable. The Prime Sense specification says 2.25 watts, but that’s probably before losses are incurred from the power supply and additional overhead from thermal management. 

I used to be attached to my older Xbox 360 purely for aesthetic reasons - it looked cool with a different case, and managed to not sound like a hair dryer after a fan replacement, but my venerable launch console stopped working with the latest dashboard update that brought UI changes and Kinect support (seriously). My original intentions were to try Kinect out on the old Xbox 360 Pro and also the new Xbox 360 S, but the old console alternates between dead and alive for half hour periods so much that it isn’t worth the frustration. One warranty-repair RROD and two x-clamp RROD repairs later, the thing was on its last legs anyway. I did want to illustrate how seriously out of control the cable situation can be - ironically for a new user interface that’s entirely wireless and relies on no controllers at all. Above you can see the cable extend the wireless adapter all the way to the front. Toss in the Y connector, and there can be a heck of a lot of cables running around.

Again, it’s obvious that the least painful way to use Kinect is with the new Xbox 360 S console, thanks in no small part to its higher-power custom USB port. Microsoft will also sell you an Xbox 360 S 4 GB bundled with the Kinect sensor and an extra game for $349.98. 

The Kinect Sensor Itself
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  • Quidam67 - Friday, December 10, 2010 - link

    I agree with this. The distance is just not realistic for most lounge set ups. I could go minimalist and ditch the sofa, and you know, just sit on the floor, but really, that's asking a lot just so I can play Kinnect games. Reply
  • Aloonatic - Friday, December 10, 2010 - link

    Unrealistic for most living rooms, so how on earth they expect this to fly in many kids bedrooms too, I have no idea. And how many kids have TVs taht would be big enough to be viewed that well from those sorts of distances too.

    Kinect seems like a great idea and tech that is perhaps just a little ahead of it's time, so unusable by many, even if they really really really* wanted to.

    * One would need to really really really really want to use Kinect to justify moving to a new house so that you might be able to :o)
    Reply
  • Nataku - Monday, December 13, 2010 - link

    I've actually seen the toy in action at the mall and people were standing only 4~5' away and it seems to work ok... im getting the feeling that the bigger you are the further back you need to be and if your only a kid you can be much closer than an adult would be able to...

    i don't see how screen size is an issue though, they are demoing these things off of 27"~30" TV sets...
    Reply
  • Patrick Wolf - Thursday, December 09, 2010 - link

    Kinect is going to be the new Wii, everyone will have one but no one will use it. Actually not everybody since not everyone can use it. Reply
  • Quidam67 - Friday, December 10, 2010 - link

    Not that I want to come across all negative, but given how long ms have been working on this complex project (I assume as a means to stretch the 360's lifespan and to invade the Wii's market at the expense of snubbing their existing one) I have to say this is just a big non-event for me. Honestly, I wish they had put their resources into putting out an "evolutionary" upgrade.

    I mean, this idea that the next gen of console has to be based on completely new hardware, with incompatible development tools, so everyone is starting froom zero is a paradigm I challenge. Why couldn't they treat it like a PC upgrade? Release a new xbox 540 that is fully software compatible with all the old 360 games I own now (without resorting to buggy and expensive software emulation) but has at least twice the memory, perhaps an extra couple of cores, a more powerful gpu. eg true 1080p gaming support.

    Then they could start transitioning over to the new machine by releasing a game that will run on both machines, but will allow better graphic settings if you are running it on the new rig. I don't know, maybe I'm just bummed out that this gen of consoles is really starting to show its technological age, and I don't see how tacking on an impractical new control device prolongs the lifespan of such dated hardware. To say nothing of what this means for PC games, which are now largely driven by the console market.

    Disappointed
    Reply
  • mcnabney - Friday, December 10, 2010 - link

    I thought the purpose of the console is to 100% compatibility for all owners with all games?

    What you are describing is more like a PC with incrementle improvements to the system from year to year.
    Reply
  • Quidam67 - Friday, December 10, 2010 - link

    In a sense, yes, but the hardware is still far more controlled. It's not like you can buy a GPU and swap it out with the old one. I'm just suggesting a more evolutionary approach, and one that offers better compatibility with the technology that preceeded it.

    The game console industry has never worked that way, but I don't think that is in itself a reason why this is not a good idea. I know for a fact some high profile developers abandoned the console industry precicely because all their assets were rendered redundant every time a new round of consoles came out.

    It doesn't have to be that way.
    Reply
  • dustcrusher - Friday, December 10, 2010 - link

    Almost every incremental console upgrade attempted thus far has been a huge failure. Atari 5200, Sega CD, Sega 32X- need I go on? Coleco had a couple of minor successes in the Expansion Module 1 and the ADAM but neither were money makers- in fact, the ADAM was one of the first consoles with cheap and easy piracy, so Coleco lost a ton on it.

    The cost in time and money would be better spent on the Xbox 720, or whatever the next system will be.

    And for a Springer-esque Final Thought, it's the fun that counts. The latest and greatest tech means nothing if the games aren't fun, and the majority of new games that tout bleeding edge graphics engines seem to be derivatives of the same tired formulas. Honestly, with a couple of exceptions I've gotten the most mileage from my 360 out of Live Arcade, because the games there focus on being fun first.
    Reply
  • Quidam67 - Friday, December 10, 2010 - link

    With all due respect, those consoles are hardly comparable to the sort of market-share and brand recognition that that the Xbox 360 now enjoys.

    You say the time would be better spent developing the 720,which I assume entails the same as all the other new gen consoles, ie. no legitimate backwards compatibility, and an architecture designed to reduce manufacturing costs at the expense of requiring a whole new set of development tools -an extremely complex and expensive re-enineering task just to get you back to where you were before.

    I can only speak for myself, and yes maybe I do think differently from the masses, but if ms had launched a xbox 540 with say a Gears of War 3 enhanced version that ran in 1080p on the new console, I'd be all over it. The Kinnect, on the other hand is not something I'd want on my machine even if they offered to me for free. All it would do is gather dust.
    Reply
  • gvaley - Friday, December 10, 2010 - link

    "...267 ms is seriously laggy, but right now it doesn’t matter too much. Maybe when we get FPS titles that’ll change."

    The way businesses work, I expect to see a ton of intentionally crippled AI in upcoming Kinect FPS games so you can have enough time to shoot the target.

    Not that this will be a one off. Every time something goes hip the technology bends back to cash in on it, pushing back progress with years in some cases. (Think of the iPhone/Android and the way smartphones are built today. For us people who were used to their high-end pre-smartphone era Sony Ericssons or Nokias, smartphones are a huge setback in terms of usability. [The volume rockers regulate ringer volume? Really? That's the dumbest idea ever. Not only it's not helpful, it's actually dangerous 'cause you can incidentally turn silent mode off and miss that important call.])

    Having said that, I'm eager on Kinect 2 in several years when the technology (and price) would allow for most kinks to be ironed out.
    Reply

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