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Kinect for Xbox 360 review

KinectArms a-flailin’, legs a-kickin’ and heads a-bobbin’. That’s the view that Kinect gets as you and your pals progressively lose your inhibitions.

The genre of action gaming, made groundbreakingly popular by the Nintendo Wii, has taken a while to migrate to the Xbox and PS3. Finally with Sony’s Move and Microsoft’s Kinect, the wait is over. So has the wait been worth it?

First impressions of the Kinect

The Kinect ships in a thankfully small box, which is easy to carry home for instant gratification purposes. Inside the box, the Kinect sensor takes up most of the space, with a setup guide, the Kinect Adventures game and a one piece cable with power and USB connectors in there as well.

The Kinect sensor is actually smaller and more premium looking than I was expecting. It’s a glossy black plastic affair, with a rubberized base that helps it perch on top of your favorite TV. The main unit is connected to the base with a little silver neck.

The setup guide is easy to follow and installation took just a few minutes as the Kinect progressed to calibrate itself by looking around and listening to ambient noise in the room. An automatic update was also downloaded during the installation process. After that I was all set.

Using the Kinect

When you start up an Xbox 360 with the Kinect installed, the regular dashboard appears and then the Kinect needs another few seconds to start up. You can then interact with the Kinect by waving a hand in the air or by talking to it. Both methods work well, but the voice control likes a quiet room to help the Kinect to understand what you’re saying.

The regular dashboard scoots away and the Kinect dashboard, or Hub as it’s known, appears. From within the Hub you make selections either buy holding your hand steady over a tile for a couple of seconds or speaking the name of the tile you want to engage. I expect most people will choose hand waving, unless you have a quiet room in which case vocal instructions are a viable option. The hand waving is intuitive and easy to use; the first time I tried, I didn’t hold my hand steady for long enough and the selection didn’t engage. But when you get used to sticking a steady hand in the air it becomes second nature.

Once you’ve engaged the Kinect into action, we hit the first hitch. Unfortunately only a few of the Xbox’s capabilities are available through the Kinect Hub. You can access the game disc currently in the drive, a very limited amount of DLC such as ESPN and some other video content, but that’s pretty much it. There’s no access to Netflix or the remaining bounty of good stuff we’ve come to love from the living room friendly world of Xbox.

I would expect that the Xbox dashboard and Kinect Hub will converge in time as more Xbox apps become compatible with the Kinect. But at the moment it feels like we are in the dangerous territory of having two parallel software interfaces coexisting on the platform.

I’ve been using the Kinect with two launch titles: Dance Central, which seems to have been the most popular title so far and Kinect Adventures, which ships with the Kinect. I’ll start with Dance Central, which is a dance game that fills the dual role of being both amazingly good fun and getting you in shape.

Dance Central includes a decent selection of songs that have their own dance moves. As you progress through the game learning the moves, the Kinect tells you how good your dancing is and is very responsive to your movements. You can slow down the action if you’re having difficulty nailing a particular step.

What makes Dance Central so amazing is that I completely forgot that the Kinect sensor was even there. I felt like I was interacting with the game tutor in my own private dance class. There was nothing to hold or wave, no sensor mats to walk on, nothing strapped to my body relaying information. The beauty of the Kinect is that when games work well, they’re wonderfully immersive.

After a good shot of not dancing very well, but sweating profusely, I turned to Kinect Adventures. This bundled game is a collection of simple active games that do a good job of showcasing the Kinect’s ability to track multiple players with fun games. There are five mini games in Kinect Adventures that all require active play. Kinect Adventures is a mild to very active game; at the extreme end of the scale Reflex Ride will have you jumping constantly to propel a cart, while dodging obstacles in your path. It’s a non-stop sweat ride, in a good way.

Some of the games, like Rallyball, demonstrate how Kinect can sense the arrival of a second player and turn a game instantly from being a one player into a two player game. It’s seriously cool to see your avatar walking into the Rallyball court and just start to play alongside the existing player. You can then walk off and the game continues, but with one player.

Kinect Adventures lacks the depth of Dance Central, but is a more immediate and better party game. It’s also free with the Kinect, and plays better than you might expect of a free game.

Some Kinect downsides

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. If you’re expecting the Minority Report experience (I wasn’t but I continue to live in hope), then brace yourself for disappointment. Precogs do not ship with the Kinect at this time. Joking aside, the hand gestures work well but lack the fluidity of the Minority Report aspiration. Ultimately the Kinect sensor has to be able to figure out if you just waving your hand or actually performing a gesture, so the couple of second confirmation period makes sense.

Occasionally the Kinect sensor became confused when two players were in the room. Sometimes it would give menu control to player one and on other occasions it would switch to player two. Not a biggie, but inconsistent.

Speaking of rooms, now we know why the early demos were done in such spacious environments. Kinect likes a spacious room. The setup guide asks for the Kinect sensor to be 6ft away from you for one player games and 8ft away for two players. That’s a stretch in my New York City shoebox, and it’s worth bearing in mind if you’re planning to buy the Kinect to use it in a small room. The distance from my TV to my sofa is just over 8ft and we were able to play one and two player games fine; although during two player games the Kinect occasionally asked one of us to move backward if we started edging forwards during the limb-waving hysteria.

Does Kinect raise the bar for action gaming?

Overall my Kinect experience has been hugely enjoyable. Aside from a couple of minor issues, I’ve been immersed into the game environment in a way that could only be bettered by Tron. Graphically we seem to be a little stuck in Wii-world, so I’d love to see a Call Of Duty for Kinect. That would take the experience to a whole new level altogether.

Neil Berman

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Nov 22, 2010 Posted by | Gaming, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , | Leave a comment

Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360 hands-on impressions

Kinext Xbox 360 bundleI got some hands-on time with Kinect for the Xbox 360 today.  Actually “hands-waving” is a more appropriate term than “hands-on”, since with Kinect you are the controller.  As a refresher or intro for the uninitiated, Kinect is an upcoming hardware release for the Xbox 360 that turns your body movements into gameplay inputs.  There’s been extensive coverage of the Kinect technology elsewhere so I’ll keep this purely subjective.

Once I learned how to control menus, which is not immediately intuitive, I had a blast with Kinect.  The Xbox 360 responded to my movements instantly, and there was no perceptible lag at all.  After an energetic session my previous concerns about Kinect remain that we might all be too lazy to turn it into an enduring success.  However, just like with the Wii Fit under my sofa, plenty of us will buy one.  I can see Kinect being a big hit for parties and fitness, sports or dance aficionados though.

The Kinect is due to be released on November 4 in the US and is available for pre-order now for $149.99.  The bundle pictured above will sell for $299.

Neil Berman

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Jul 24, 2010 Posted by | Gaming, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MacBook Pro or a fully equipped entertainment apartment?

Mac vs PCWe all know that Macs are expensive, but just how much more expensive are they in real world terms?  This can be difficult to quantify.  In the Vista and XP days it was easier to justify a Mac purchase based upon the quality of its operating system.  That’s exactly what I did back in 2007.  With Windows 7 however the game has changed and while OSX wins on some aspects (prettiness, support, media apps), Windows clearly now leads on others (taskbar, multitouch, homegroup).  Overall it kind of feels like a tie at the moment.

So here’s the challenge: For the price of a decently spec’d MacBook Pro can a one bedroom apartment be kitted out with home entertainment tech including a similarly spec’d Windows 7 laptop?

First, the rules.  Pretty simple really, no refurbs, coupons or member-only offers.  We’ll also assume that in both scenarios we’ll buy the same wireless router.

The Mac option

MacBook ProLet’s start with the MacBook Pro.  We’ll take the 15″ with the standard Core i7 processor and 4GB RAM.  In fact the only upgrade we’d make is to dump the slow 5400RPM 500GB drive in favor of a faster 7200RPM unit, which we think should be standard on anything labelled “Pro”.  That’s a cheap $50 upgrade.

That gives us a grand total of $2,249 on Apple’s site.  Let’s see what we can get ourselves for that kind of money.

Our apartment has a bedroom and living room, so we’ll need to take care of both.  In the living room we’ll need a TV, surround sound audio system, something for gaming and of course Blu-ray.  In the bedroom a small TV would be nice along with a simple sound system.  And of course we need that Windows laptop too, so let’s start with that.

The one bedroom apartment

Keeping it simple we can pick up our laptop from the local Walmart.  They have the HP Pavilion DV6-2190US with almost identical HP Pavilion DV6specs to the MacBook Pro for $898.54.  There’s the Intel Core i7, 4GB RAM and 500GB 7200RPM hard drive, all being powered by Windows 7 Home Premium.  The DV6 packs a GeForce 230M in  place of the 330M on the MacBook Pro but in day-to-day tasks like surfing and typical comupting, Toshiba 40RV525R LCD TVmost people wouldn’t notice the difference.  The big 2010 performance leap comes from the Core i7.

We definitely need a nice big TV, so let’s go for a 40″ 1080p from Toshiba for $579.99.  It’s rated 4.6 out 5 from 91 reviews on Tiger Direct, so that’s a solid endorsement.

Xbox 360 ArcadeFor the games console we’d choose an Xbox 360 for $199.99, but a Wii would do just as well for the same money if you prefer it.

We definitely want to be watching that 1080p TV and playing our games in full surround sound, so how about adding a Sony Bravia surround system with speakers for $229.99 from Newegg.

We’ll pair that Bravia surround system with a Sony Blu-ray player for another $139.99 from Newegg.

Sony Bravia DAV-DZ170That gives us the kind of super duper living room setup that we’ll never want to leave, but that Mac Book Pro is so expensive that we still have $400 to burn!  So let’s go into the bedroom…

iPod TouchThe iPod Touch is a great device to have around as a flexible media player and second web device, so we’ll have one of those of Apple’s site for $199.99.

We need  to get some noises out of that so we need a dock.  Altec Lansing’s well regarded IM310 sounds good for $59 from J&R.

Finally we’ll complete the bedroom tech setup with a 15″ TV.  This one from Coby comes in at only $129.99 but still delivers 720p resolution.

That total home entertainment setup, all from major brands including a Core i7 laptop comes to $2237.49.  That’s still less than the MacBook Pro, but I think we’ve bought enough virtual stuff for one day.

So can you setup a whole apartment for the price of a MacBook Pro?

So one the one hand you could buy a HP Core i7 Windows 7 laptop, Toshiba 40″ HDTV, Sony BluRay deck and Bravia surround sound system, Xbox, iPod Touch, sound dock and a bedroom TV…or you could have a MacBook Pro.  The choice, as ever, is yours.

Prices accurate as of the time of writing, but as always in the tech world if you’re slow they’ll change!

Neil Berman

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Apr 16, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Gaming, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft, Rants | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Microsoft crashes, then reboots to deliver pre-CES keynote

Things didn’t quite go according to plan for Steve Ballmer and Microsoft at tonight’s pre-CES keynote.  Power failed at startup but after a thirty minute reboot we were fully operational.

Steve was on form with some great Windows 7 stats, revealing that there were an incredible eight million beta testers during 2009, including yours truly.  Steve didn’t mention me by name; perhaps next time ;-)

Some important announcements followed, including the news that Project Natal would be born to the 2010 Holiday Season.  This groundbreaking gaming controller has the potential to be a game changer, using TV mounted cameras to turn your body into a game controller.  Pricing is still to be confirmed; let’s pray for good content to get the best out of this promising technology.

On the wireless front there was no mention of Windows Phone 7, but the HTC HD2 is coming to T-Mobile in the US.  This 1GHz Snapdragon-powered phone is as good as it gets right now on the Windows Phone platform, so it’s great to see this device coming to a major US carrier.

Ceton’s quad HD CableCard tuner was also demo’d, which allows recording of four simultaneous CableCard-encrypted channels within Windows 7 Media Center.  Could this finally propel WMC into mainstream living rooms?  I’d say probably not, because this functionality has existed for unencrypted channels for some time now.  However it’s a great step forward for WMC enthusiasts and takes this excellent home media platform even further ahead of the competition.

There was also a great looking HP slate on display (main picture) along with a couple of others.  Microsoft is clearly taking this emerging sector seriously as everyone awaits Apple’s potential entry.  No details were available on the HP slate, except that it is coming our way soon.

On the Xbox 360 gaming front, Halo Reach looks solid and Microsoft believes it has created a new psychological thriller game genre in Alan Wake.  This new game is said to play like a real life movie, I’ll live in hope but will hold judgement for now.  Microsoft also announced Game Room which is a retro gaming platform for the Xbox 360, giving access to over a thousand arcade games over the coming three years.  Game Room looks great, but I was left wondering whether this is really a viable offering, given that most of these games are already available through compilation releases.

Enjoy the shots in the gallery…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 7, 2010 Posted by | CES, Computing, Gaming, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft, Mobile, News | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Red rings, yellow lights; what no blue mouth?

wii blueWe know all too well about the Xbox’s infamous red ring of death and now the PS3 seems to want a piece of the action with its yellow light of failure.

This kind of attention is not necessarily the best type of attention, but they always said that any publicity is good publicity. So what about it Nintendo, are we going to see a ‘blue mouth of MotionLess’?

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Sep 18, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Official: Xbox 360 Elite Down By $100

P1020369

Now’s the time to get l33t.

Can’t stop tho, I’m on a deadline to get thru

GOW2

because the countdown to September 22nd is well underway…

ODST

Gotta go!!!

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Aug 27, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, Hardware, Microsoft, News | , , , | Leave a comment

Cheaper PS3 Still Too Expensive To Worry XBox 360

Hmmm…$299 for the lowest PS3 in the range a number of years into the current Wii/PS3/Xbox 360 cycle. Well it’s a start I guess, but let’s not expect it to turn the XBox 360/PS3 balance on its head anytime soon.

At $199 the XBox 360 arcade is still the obvious choice for the recession conscious consumer and it comes with access to a huge selection of games compared to the PS3. The Wii continues to be the broad-based family-fun choice. With many of Sony’s businesses languishing, is it really the right time for its cheapest PS3 to still be a Benjamin more expensive than the cheapest XBox 360?

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Aug 20, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Gaming, Microsoft, News | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES – Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft Pre-CES Keynote

p10304161Steve might not have come on stage last night in a blazing storm, but his Keynote was packed with content, a frankly hilarious Xbox song from Tripod but unfortunately no Zune phone.  Here’s a summary from the front row…

  • Windows 7 Beta available now to MSDN and TechNet subscribers.  Due to be available to everyone on Microsoft.com on Friday this week.  I’ll write about it as soon as I find a spare PC…
  • Halo Wars (strategy game) and Halo 3 ODST (similar to current Halo 3 but with new storyline) were announced.  See Halo Wars screenshots on today’s earlier post.
  • Windows Live Hotmail, Messenger and Photo Gallery have been packaged into Windows Live Essentials and will be preinstalled on Dell PCs, together with Live Search
  • Live Search will also be installed on Verizon Windows Mobile phones
  • Microsoft sees continued development and take-on of seamless communication between PC, TV, phone and the internet cloud
  • A partnership with Facebook now pushes Facebook updates to your Windows Live profile
  • Windows 7 cool features demo’d: Play To allows you to stream media to play on any device in your Homegroup or stream from them.  Snap to side allows easy comparison of windows side by side.  Multitouch looks pretty awesome for map and photo manipulation, but is not in the Beta build.
  • Kodu Xbox 360 online community game creator was demo’d and looks like a lot of fun.
  • Netflix queue control from Windows Mobile phones is coming soon.
  • Internet Explorer 8 will hook-in with Hotmail to provide add-ins such as restaurant finders, whose results can be inserted directly into emails.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 8, 2009 Posted by | CES, Computing, Microsoft, News, Software | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES – Halo Wars Screenshots

Here are some first-look screenshots from Halo Wars for your deeelectation and deeelite, following Steve Ballmer’s announcement of the game in last night’s Microsoft keynote.   Enjoy…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 8, 2009 Posted by | CES, Gaming, Microsoft | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sony promises to increase prices, meanwhile Dell offers PS3 for $319.99

PS3 Dell HomeNow here’s a good holiday deal.  If you’ve been waiting for Sony to drop the price of the PS3 you may need to wait a little longer.  But…if you head on over to Dell’s US website pretty sharpish you can snag one for 20% off for a limited time.  Not sure if that will help Sony catch the monthly sales of 2 MILLION Wiis shipped in November alone, 360 Controller and Plantronics Headsetbut it might help prolong the PS3’s agony a little longer…especially as how it was crushed 2 to 1 by the XBox 360 and 5 to 1 by the Wii last month.  NPD’s reported sales figures for Nov were Wii: 2,040k units, Xbox 360: 836k units, PS3: 378k units.

Interestingly the ratio of Xbox 360 sales to PS3 in October was 1.87 to 1, whilst in November the 360 pulled ahead to 2.21 to 1, probably due to the price cut.  Microsoft clearly doesn’t need to do much to ward off the PS3 anymore, rather it seems to have it’s eyes on the Wii’s spot instead…although I can’t see it happening in this console generation.  It’s sure turned out different to the way we all thought back in 2005 though, the Playstation franchise needs something big now and these days Sony is in big trouble.

Back on the home front, I’ve been nurturing an ever-growing addiction to Halo 3 on the XBox 360.  I have trendnetbeen joining the faithful army of online Spartans and when I say army, think mass hordes…there are typically 250-300,000 Halo 3 gamers online each evening, US time.

Helping to make all this happen for me is a new Trendnet router.  Epix and FuzeReplacing a Trendnet 108mbps b/g, this 300mbps b/g/n speed demon has gigabit ethernet and flies along with rock-like stability.  Installation was a breeze, but pretty please Trendnet next time add a MAC address import feature; typing in all those addresses gets tiring!

I’ve also been giving the new HTC Touch Pro (at&t Fuze, the one the half gig ROM and 288mb RAM) and Samsung i907 (at&t Epix, the one with the optical mouse) a good workout recently…reviews to follow shortly.  Suffice to say they’re not too shabby.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Dec 13, 2008 Posted by | Analysis, Gaming, Hardware | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mac users finally get Netflix instant viewing, caught thanking Microsoft

Netflix is now offering instant viewing to Apple users…and the Mac version, unlike the Windows one, is powered by Microsoft Silverlight.  Today’s Apple experience is defined by the strength of its multimedia offerings and its increasingly bitter negative advertising campaign towards Microsoft.  So it is perhaps the ultimate irony for Mac users that to enjoy Netflix’s industry leading video player we have to rely on downloading Microsoft’s Silverlight first.

On a related note Xbox 360 owners who are Netflix subscribers are the first to get Netflix HD shows.  Since current 360s all have Dolby 5.1, 1080i/p HDMI and Media Center extensibility for live TV streaming that makes the now-oh-so-cheap Arcade version a $199 bargain imho.  And it plays games.  If you’re quick you can get the 20gb hard drive for very very little from Microsoft too.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Nov 3, 2008 Posted by | Apple, Microsoft | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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