November 29, 2011, 8:36 AM — Microsoft's Kinect motion sensor for the Xbox 360 has passed its first birthday and as far as I can tell still hasn't realized its potential. Or at least, it hasn't realized the potential that we all saw in early demos. (Remember Claire and Milo, the virtual kid-in-the-machine?)
At the 2011 E3 show 'core gamers' were once again promised Kinect experiences directed at them, but here we are in the big holiday release quarter and those experiences have failed to materialize.
If you haven't given up on the promise of motion controlled gaming, there still may be hope for you. Eurogamer published a piece on a rumored Kinect 2 system that will most likely launch with the next iteration of the Xbox line (the Xbox 720? The Xbox Loop?), whenever that arrives. Eurogamer says this new Kinect won't be hobbled by the limitations of the USB 2.0 port that the current Kinect uses; instead the hardware will be designed to give the new Kinect a faster pipeline to the system's internals.
So what does this mean? Apparently not only can Kinect 2 read finger movements (high on the wish-list for the current hardware) but it can read lips, too. I don't think they mean this in the sense that it can extrapolate what you're saying from your lip movements, but that it can tell who in a room is speaking by matching lip movement to audio input. Kinect 2 can also, the claims say, read your mood. It can tell if you're angry! Outstanding...I wonder if I can get it to clue me in as to when I'm ticking off my girlfriend before I wind up in the dog house.
Let's just say I'm skeptical about the mood-reading abilities.
So when is it coming? Rumors on a launch date for the next Xbox run the gamut from Holiday 2012 to sometime in 2014. I think 2012 is very unlikely; I wouldn't expect it until holiday 2013 at the earliest.
Which is a good thing, because maybe between now and then game designers will finally figure out how to put Kinect to use beyond jumping around waving your arms to control family friendly mini-games or for novelty alternate control schemes that no one uses more than once or twice. Kinect hackers come up with all kinds of cool uses for the technology. What's holding back the game devs?
In the meantime, there's Kinect for Windows, which is coming in early 2012. The hardware aspect of Kinect for Windows has a new "near mode" that makes it a viable solution for use in a desktop environment. In near mode the Kinect sensor needs only about 20 inches of room (50 centimeters to be precise) to work. Compare that to 6 feet or so for Kinect for Xbox.
Hopefully Kinect for Windows will also work with the Xbox 360, or maybe we'll see a Kinect 1.5 coming out in the months to come. Those of us who don't have a lot of space in front of their TV would appreciate that.
Next week the new Dashboard Update for the Xbox 360 should arrive (testers have it already) and it'll be interesting to see how well integrated Kinect is. I was excited about the voice command possibilities of Kinect, just to navigate around the dashboard. In practice that's been a disappointment. The technology actually works really well, but it isn't ubiquitous enough to allow for a complete controller-free experience. And if I have to pick up a controller to get through some steps of a process, I may as well just use a controller for the whole job.
A year after my Day 1 purchase of the Kinect Sensor, I feel like I'm still waiting for it to 'get good.' The thing oozes potential; it's just a matter of developers coaxing it out of the machine.
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