Sunday, January 16, 2011

Article: Intel Fanboy's Kinect Experience

By this time, many has heard about this product and this technology. Not too long ago, it was called Project Natal, and the first time I saw it on YouTube, I was so excited and I even thought this as something like a hoax. Of course, after more than a year, an actual product has been released, and various other “hack” could be found on the web.

However, despite such amazing capability, I am just not a console guy, and even more so, not a gamer. While I do play Blizzard games almost exclusively, I just don’t spend enough quality time to even call myself a casual gamer and so while Kinect does present an interesting enough technology (more interesting than stupid Apple iPad), I never thought I’d really need a Kinect.

But my interest to own a Kinect has changed a lot, not by the games that it presents to me, but because of my curiosity with how the hackers out there makes some cool modifications to adapt the technology outside the bounds of its original scope. And this led me to just, well, go get one. And thus, start my saga and my very own first purchase of console system: Microsoft XBox 360 4GB Slim with Microsoft Kinect bundle.

Note: I will not go about what is inside the box, nor the game bundles, since this article is about the Kinect experience and my thoughts about it. For that level of detail, there will be other articles on the web that should cover that in a lot more detail.

First Impression on the Console:
XBox 360 4GB Slim edition comes in a surprising form factor for me. It’s just about the right size, nice Black matter color, and with a cool touch-sensing Power-On button and Optical-Drive open/close button. The physical set up is easy, not so messy cabling required and a Kinect port is available. With standard USB port in front and in the rear, I can only imagine what other add-on peripherals could be added to this baby. Over-all, I’m impressed. Well, I’d say since my last console was an Atari, this baby is a miracle.

First Impression on the Kinect:

The device looks odd, but not ugly, and has mic and “smart” cameras built-in. Microsoft is nice enough to make the color black and give it a finish like most televions are now today. It never really stands out and doesn’t detract users when watching TV or playing a game. The device is sturdy, and has long enough cable. It would be cool if it has wireless interface to the XBox 360 console and wireless power, that will be totally awesome.

I actually bought several games, not knowing what to really expect from Kinect. I bought Dance Central, Joy Ride, and Sports. Of course, witht the bundled Kinect Adventures, I pretty much have too much title to just see how it performs. This range of games will hopefully give me more insights as to what the technology is all about, full body motion capture.

The Kinect (and XBox 360) experience:
The first start up is a bit too much for my liking. I can’t actually recall the full steps, but the things I really dislike is entering my home location and credit card stuff. Though I did have an option to skip the credit card thingie, adding text information with several buttons isn’t as intuitive as using a keyboard. Granted, XBox has that kind of accessory, but come on, if the set up will require me to enter that much text, it should be bundled rather than an add-on.

I am also a little annoyed that the bundle came with only one controller. I may not be the most experienced console owner out there but I sure remember my Atari having two controllers out of the box. My friends’ Nintendo Family Computer has two controllers attached to it as well. And as far as I can recall, PS One has two controllers right off the box. Anyway, I just shrug it off and think that Microsoft probably added only 1 controller since Kinect is supposed to make “players” the controller. But really, during the initial set up, the Kinect is useless as most of the pre-configuration is done via the wireless controller.

Now that I think about it, it’s similar to my first iPad experience: too much pre-configuration. Manufacturers should make pre-config as optional and allow “owners” to use the device right out of the box, and if they like advance functionalities, then that’s where those pre-config should kick off. If there’s any pre-config, it should be as few as possible and not where you’ll spend at least 30mins to set things up.

After the set up is all done and completed, it’s time to put in that game disc and see what Kinect is all about. The first time, as I recall, walks me thru optimizing my “game area”. It makes sense and I don’t mind it at all since it is really needed. It gives users an idea of what Kinect sees and allows users to adjust their game space.

When that’s done as well, things are getting a lot more interesting. Playing with Kinect gives a new twist in gaming. While playing using your body isn’t something new or foreign mainly because we’ve been doing, the experience is quite interesting seeing how the platform easily recognize different parts of my body. About 11 or 12 years ago, I used to have fun playing “pop the bubbles” with my Intel webcam with Intel Pentium 4 2.0GHz processor under Windows 98, but this Kinect totally bring the experience to a whole new level. The gaming platform is smart enough to detect multiple players, at multiple distance to the machine, doing various other things.

While the amount of delay and lag is annoying, it doesn’t really make the gaming experience bad or unplayable. I have played 4 titles and while I can’t say it will be the same experience for all game titles, one thing Kinect proves is that: it can be done and it works great.

More Kinect experience:
Later on, I found out that Kinect can even do voice and facial recognition. While I have seen it in the demo (Project Natal), I totally forgot about this feature. However, once I got it set up, it made the experience more enjoyable. I can’t say it’s perfect, but it works most of the time and can recognize me and two other people who plays the game. Voice recognition is quite tricky, but on the main Kinect menu, it works just fine. Just make sure your surroundings isn’t as noisy as mine.

In closing...
All I can say is that I am excited on what future gadgets will come to us all. Sure, common household robots and flying cars are still too far ahead from being a reality, virtual interaction has gone a good step ahead. And with all the hackers and hacks around, I can only look forward to a better exciting and more entertaining future. I wonder how Kinect Pr0n would look like, hmmm...

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