It’s Kinect. Microsoft’s baby, their biggest hardware release since the Xbox 360, meant to revolutionize gaming, specifically for everyone who doesn’t want a controller, forever. Here’s our first look from installation to an hour in!

The box for Kinect is surprisingly compact, but in a good way. I actually got lucky – the closest electronics store to me, besides for a 5×5″ Radioshack, is a 30 minute drive, and Kinect had no deals for same-day shipping anywhere. Out of nowhere, the Radioshack had one. Guess the population of old people in Malibu aren’t interested, or just forgot that the local ‘Shack sells things besides replacement cables.

The discreet packaging a quick install guide and Kinect Adventures, the included game

The Kinect Camera

In the Kinect box is the camera and three cables. If you own the new Slim model, then you’ll only need to use the one attached cable. I’ll show how to set that up in just a minute. If, however, you have the older, original Xbox 360, then you’ll have to use the included power cable as well. The final cable is a USB extender, and is going to be useless for nearly everyone. It adds a few extra feet to your cable, just in case.

This is a special USB cable that only connects to the new Xbox 360 Slim models.

On your Xbox 360 Slim, just plug the weird USB cable (the only one directly connected to the Kinect camera) into the slot pictured above. You’ll note the odd shape of this connector. It sits beside the ethernet connector. You can connect the cable with your Xbox 360 on or off, it doesn’t matter. I’d recommend doing it while the 360 is off, because it’s very easy to jerk the console around while plugging the cable in. If you do plug it in while your Xbox 360 is on, make sure to first remove any games to make sure they don’t get scratched in the process.

At this point, for original Xbox 360 owners, you should plug the power cable into a wall outlet, and connect the corresponding USB cables.

Once the USB cable is connected, place the Kinect camera either on top your TV (seen above) or on the same stand as your TV. Place it wherever it has the most coverage. You should know that the Kinect can adjust it’s vision thanks to one built-in motor, and does look up and down. Mine is placed above the TV because my TV sits pretty close to the ground, so the Kinect is about neck level for me. Then the following update message appears. Go ahead and say yes (if you accidentally click no, just unplug the USB cable and plug it back in, or restart the Xbox 360 console. Then the message will come up.

Interesting message…thanks Ninten…err, Microsoft!

The Xbox will update after clicking yes, so go ahead and give it a few minutes. It shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds, but may take up to 5 minutes depending on your connection speed.

Once the update completes, this screen will come up. The Xbox 360 will walk you through an initial setup for the Kinect, so just follow the on-screen instructions. They’re all basic and very straight forward. Please note that for this whole process you’ll require a controller to get through the installation.

Upon completing the installation, you’ll be taken back to the Xbox Dashboard (the main screen), only now a picture of yourself and tips for Kinect will appear on the bottom right of the screen. As you can see, my picture sits below and it’s telling me to wave to activate Kinect. To activate Kinect, either wave three times (right, left, right…with your arm), and hold your hand over the designated option. Alternatively, because Kinect is also voice-activated, you can say “Xbox, Kinect” and it will register your voice and take you to the Kinect Hub.

In the Kinect Hub, all your hand gestures and your voice are both registered immediately. This is very different from the main Xbox 360 dashboard, as seen in the previous screen, which is controlled through the Xbox 360 controller. The Kinect Hub doesn’t work with the 360 controller at all, so you’re fine putting it down, or even turning it off to conserve battery life. Once in the Kinect Hub, hold your hand over any of the listed channels on-screen, or say “Xbox, [channel]“, and that channel will open.

If you find that the Kinect sensor isn’t reading properly, or doesn’t see you right, the Kinect Tuner in the options is a quick way to fix that. Thanks to a motor, the Kinect camera has a pretty wide range of motion, about 45 degrees, perhaps more. The standard viewing angle probably won’t be right for your setup, so make sure you go and adjust the angle so that it fits your space. In the picture above, most of my body is visible, but I’m approximately 6.5 feet away from the camera. Microsoft recommends 6-10 ft., and more for additional players. At 6.5 ft. myself, my legs were touching my couch, and the first games I ran didn’t work until I adjusted the camera angle.

I also opted to calibrate my Kinect sensor, because it wasn’t working properly right away. I expect this to be similar for most users. To calibrate it, take a calibration card from (presumably) any Kinect game (Kinect Adventures includes a card). Then follow the on-screen instructions for the card.

The Calibration card

Initial Impressions

I played Kinect in a sunny room mid-day. At first, I had no problems, so installation wasn’t difficult (and in fact worked well, but did take quite some time). I was also surprised that a 360 controller was needed. It’s ironic that Microsoft’s advanced motion-detecting hardware requires a simple, buttoned controller to setup. Realistically, there’s no other feasible way around it, and all Xbox 360′s come with controllers anyways.

As time went on and the sun became more prevalent in the room, I noticed that the Kinect sensor had more trouble reading my movements. At one point, it couldn’t track my hands or my head whatsoever, thanks to the disruption from sunlight. While I expect most people to not have a problem with this, because most of us intentionally put a TV in a darkened room, or at least a room where the curtains can be closed, this isn’t the case for me. Kinect gameplay may prove difficult when the sun is shining in my case. More on that for the full review.

Movement was accurate, and it certainly took time to adjust to. Playing alone only, I quickly found that Kinect isn’t just about standing in place, it will require users to move side to side as well. Most commercials don’t show this, but every mini-game I played with rare exception required me to take at least one step right and left from the center position. Laziness won’t work with Kinect.

The few games I did play were simple, and they registered my movements fairly enough. The 640×480 camera is capable of reading body movements very well, and when I spoke with Microsoft representatives about it at E3 earlier this year, they mentioned that it is sensitive enough to read even finger movements, but not right now. Right now, we have basic body movements. We likely won’t see finger gestures for some time.

Thus far, the games I’ve played register my movements fairly accurately. Some don’t allow certain movements, such as turning your back to the camera. Doing so will make the on-screen avatar twist and bobble about. It’s also fairly quick, but anyone playing will have to recognize that moving at the last second isn’t good enough, because it takes Kinect a moment to register the action on-screen. Now we all have to move the second before the last second.

Just playing with the menus, I found that navigation is simple, though shifting between menus is not. This may be because of the light sensitivity and sunlight. Using the voice recognition was much easier, and the Xbox reacted to my commands quickly and efficiently. I only needed to repeat myself once. Interestingly, I caught myself speaking slower and denunciating more. I don’t even do that with children.

The simple installation is a little long, but it should be expected considering the newness of this technology. How the cameras become almost useless in some sunlight (not direct sunlight) is worrying, but I’ll investigate this matter further for the full review. So far, I’ve had fun with Kinect, but like anything else, it takes time to get used to. Unlike the Wii, you don’t just pick up a controller and wave it around. You literally are the controller, and that’s both the problem and the solution. Anyone using Kinect must be willing to move as the games show, otherwise you are just wasting your time. For regular gamers, that’s a far cry from Call of Duty or Madden, where it’s all about sitting still for hours on end. Here, if you aren’t active, you aren’t playing.

Stay tuned for the full review next week!

James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.