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Project Natal Vs Kinect Follow Up January 3, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.
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I’ve had a few days now to play around with the Kinect, the Xbox 360 perphial which formally went by the codename of Project Natal.  While my previous article on Project Natal vs Kinect was based entirely upon my research, I wanted to write a bit of a follow-up to my earlier article which would include my personal experience with it.  This article is going to provide a bit of updated information to the original article, and answer some of the questions I couldn’t.  I recommend reading that article first before reading this.  Now this will mostly revolve around the interface of the Kinect in the Xbox 360, and my experience using it, and compare that to what I had written in my original article, as well as provide deeper information on the perphial.

Well, first off I can give a ruling that the Kinect will be able to detect hand motions from any position.  On startup the Kinect scans the room for its user and keeps the camera at the best perspective it needs to see them.  Because of that, it will be able to scan you whether you’re sitting, squatting or standing and read your hands.  You have to wave your hand slowly (which was something a friend of mine simply could not do correctly no matter what instruction the system and I gave them how to wave) in order for the system to recognize you want to use it, and then it treats your hand in the interface like the pointer to a wiimote.  Since there’s no button, it detects what you want to select by how long you hold your hand over the option.  It works well, so long as you don’t get too close to the camera, and it’s quite fun when you’re setting up your initial Xbox Live Avatar.

That split-screen soccer game I mentioned in the original article which if it wasn’t already out at the time of writing was probably going to be out by Christmas was in fact out when I wrote the article.  I can confirm that the Kinect-Exclusive launch game Kinect Sports has a soccer mode which is more in-depth than just goaltending.

I’ve also gotten some experience with the facial recognition setup of the Kinect.  When I initially theorized in the article that in order for the Kinect to take a 3D model of its user for later purposes, you would need to stand in front of the Kinect and do a very specific series of turns while it took pictures of you and mapped it onto your 3D model, I said there was no incentive for the user to do this.  It turns out that this is EXACTLY how it sets up facial recognition, so there is some incentive for the user to do it.  Unfortunately I’m currently unable to set it up myself, as my room is set up in such a way that if I was to follow the moves that Kinect wants me to do in order to map my 3D body, I would need to saw off half of my bed and sledgehammer through my wall.  Fortunately the facial recognition system is optional and you don’t have to add it to your Xbox profile if you don’t want to.

As for my experiences with the audio recognition system, they were mixed.  There is an audio interface built into the new Xbox 360 dashboard when you have a Kinect plugged in, which will respond to you whenever you say the word, “XBOX” clearly enough for the system to hear it.  You really have to talk to it like you’re commanding it, otherwise it might not pick up on the word.  Unfortunately, if you’re in the regular controller interface, you have to first tell it to bring up the Kinect-specific dashboard by saying, “KINECT” right after saying, “XBOX”.  Only from there can you give it commands like “Play Disc”, “Next Menu”, “Open/Close Tray”, or “Cancel”.  If you try to skip the Kinect menu and give it one of the commands without booting it, like if you just want it to open your disc tray because you’re lazy, it won’t listen to you from the normal menu.  However, you can also wave and use your hand to command the Kinect menu if you’d rather not wake up everyone in your house by commanding the tv.  You still can’t turn the Xbox on and off by voice, something a lot of people are still disappointed about as it was something that was initially promised.

Update:  The Fall 2011 dashboard update has changed a lot of what was initially written here.  You can turn the Xbox 360 off by voice command while in the Xbox dashboard.  The dashboard can also be operated by Kinect voice command without having to go into a seperate menu.

There was no bigger disappointment for me than the Kinect Video Chat program.  It is completely different than what was shown in the video.  Wheras the girl was able to get one of her friends immediately to Kinect chat with her, I have only one friend who actually has an Xbox 360 with a Kinect at the time of writing, and he so far has refused to take any Kinect chat call I send him!  Then there’s the interface, it doesn’t seem to accept voice commands, and so far I’ve only been able to use it with either a controller or hand motions.  This is probably because the Kinect chat system sorts people by their gamertag, not their real names, and we all know that the pronunciation of a lot of people’s gamertags are debatable.  There’s also the video quality of the chat, which I can only say is total shit, even locally.  I think the Xbox Live Vision Camera offered a more fluid FPS in that camera than the Kinect offers.  Like I theorized, because the Kinect’s camera is not HD (any), on an HDTV setup, the chat windows would have to keep windowed or the image would blur.  Well they are windowed, and on a 1080p TV screen like I have, you can still see a minor blur.  But the blur is just not as bad as the non fluid motion of your local image.  This to me was the biggest disappointment of the Kinect.  The Kinect chat was supposed to be a whole new way of communication between two people, moving us one step closer to what was possible in Back to the Future Part II when an older Marty talked to an older Needles on the big screen HDTV in his den.  Instead, it feels like a webcam chat when you’re using two crappy cameras.  In fact the program happily announces to you that it uses the webcam software which is part of Windows Live Messenger, so now I know who to blame.  I’d like to tell you what the experience is like when two people could talk, and what I have to wave my hand over to help me try out dresses, but like I said, the only friend I have with a Kinect refuses to even plug it into his Xbox 360 when he’s not gaming on it (which definitely tells you something), making having a Kinect video chat experience unlikely for me.

Well that’s my follow-up on the Kinect.  I went a little deeper into what is actually being offered by these cameras opposed to what was initially promised in E3 2009 back when it was called Project Natal.  Hope you enjoyed it!