This week, I went out and bought a Kinect. Actually, I bought two Kinects, but more about that in a minute.
Here's the thing. The Kinect is truly an amazing device, but it might not be what you expect. Even worse, you might get it home and discover it's not actually usable in your house.
After a few days of tinkering with the device and more than one run back to the game store, I can definitively tell you that there are a number of strong reasons why you might not want to buy a Kinect.
Reason 1: Kinect requires way more room than advertised
I live in a pretty large house. Our entertainment center is in a large, open great room that flows into our dining area and then into the kitchen. This one area is bigger than some apartments I've lived in (true story).
So when I tell you that the Kinect requires way more space than you might expect, keep this room in mind. The Kinect needed more space than this room could offer.
First, as the image below shows, the Kinect claims to need a minimum of six feet. But when we set up the Kinect (almost exactly like in the picture) it did not register either of two adults (one smaller, one larger) properly. We had to be at least eight feet away.
Most people don't sit that far away from their TVs to watch TV. Microsoft knows this, because before Kinect Adventures loads, it shows pictures of players moving not just side chairs and a coffee table, but moving the entire couch out of the way to play using the Kinect.
If you want to play with two people, the area required becomes even more. With one person and a play space about six feet wide, we still bumped into pictures on the wall on one side and a computer monitor on a desk on the other. For one person, you need a space about eight feet wide.
But that's not all. You don't just play with the Kinect on a single plane. You might start eight feet away, but then need to move back another six to eight feet. In fact, the area required by the Kinect when doing its original facial recognition processing was close to eight feet by eight feet -- and that was once the player was eight feet away from the Kinect.
Once you get to two people, you need a space at least 12 feet wide. That's wider than many rooms. Otherwise, you're going to be crashing into each other, bashing each other, and possibly poke your eye out.
The bottom line is this: the Kinect requires an astonishing amount of space (16 feet by 8 feet is about the workable minimum) and if you can't easily produce that space, you're not going to enjoy the Kinect. Your kids might like it, but they'll wind up breaking things, go to the hospital, develop a negative association with Thanksgiving or Christmas, and never, ever come to visit you in your old age.
Reason 2: You'll break things
Yes, this could be related to the first reason, but the simple fact is that if you do decide to go with a space smaller than the bridge of the Enterprise (with the helm and navigation stations, Captain's chair, and handrail dividers all removed), you will break things.
If you don't want things to break, either don't get a Kinect -- or get a bigger house.
Reason 3: You might have to buy a bigger house
Okay, I know this sounds ludicrous, but that's because you've probably never been married. If you're married, you'll understand how things are when your wife really wants something.
Let's say you bring home the Kinect and your wife decides she likes one of those dance games -- but it's not comfortable playing anywhere in the house.
It won't happen immediately, but sometime soon, you'll start hearing suggestions why it might be a good idea to move. Oh, sure. The claim might be that it's to move to a better neighborhood, or get a better rate on a mortgage, or be near a better school, but we know better.
You have to buy a bigger house to make room for the Kinect.
Reason 4: You could frak yourself up
Back when the Wii first came out and we were all flinging that little Wii controller back and forth, some of us found that our arms started to hurt. Pretty quickly, the condition was named Wii Elbow.
With the Kinect, you're flinging your whole body all over. If you think your elbow hurt, try playing Reflex Ridge in Kinect Adventures. By the time you're done ducking, weaving, bobbing, jumping, and squatting, your whole body is going to be in a mess of hurt.
Wii Elbow was bad enough, but be careful out there. We don't want a whole nation of Kinect Koncussion sufferers.
Reason 5: The incredibly modal nature of Kinect
The Kinect is an amazing interface. Voice recognition is cool, and swiping your hand to select something rocks far more than you'd ever expect.
But there's a serious problem. The Kinect is modal as all heck.
In other words, you can use the Kinect features in only certain portions of the Xbox interface, and even there, it's not consistent. There's no reason you shouldn't be able to wave your hand to scroll left and right or up and down in the main Xbox dashboard, but you can't. All you can say is "Xbox" and "Kinect".
In the Kinect dashboard, you can sometimes talk and have your speech recognized, but other times, it's only hand motions, and in a few surprising times, you'll need the controller.
Also, while the Microsoft ads talk about using the Kinect to swipe your hand and play videos, those are only videos you've purchased and downloaded through the Zune store, itself a completely modal interface separate from the modal interface of the Kinect hub, and that a separate interface from the Xbox dashboard. If you want to play videos from a connected Windows Media device, they're only accessible through the main dashboard's video interface -- and not using the Kinect.
Finally, while you can start the Xbox, get into the Kinect dashboard, and play something like Kinect Adventures without ever touching a controller, there's no way to turn off the Xbox without physically tapping it or holding down the X button on the controller.
Reason 6: Incompatibility, missing parts, and the Red Ring of Death
This was not just because I'm a dedicated product tester. Oh, no. This was because Microsoft set out to make me go insane.
I decided I wanted a Kinect. I didn't really want to play it all that much (I figured my wife would), but as a computer scientist, I wanted to see this truly new input device in action. So I decided I'd buy a Kinect.
I bought it, brought it home, and connected it (kinected it?) to my Xbox 360 Elite in the entertainment center. This is where we discovered our great room wasn't great enough to house the Kinect. Fine. Plan B.
We have a spare, almost empty bedroom my wife uses for yoga. It's a room big enough and empty enough for the Kinect to be used safely. I also had an old, white, pre-HDMI Xbox 360 we sometimes used upstairs, and we decided to bring that down and use it with the Kinect.
We turned it on and the darned thing red-ringed. We did all the repair tricks. We did the Penny Trick, the Towel Trick, and even the Q-Tip Trick. None of them worked. The white Xbox was dead.
But this was a project I was doing for science and country. It pained me, but we would have to buy one of those new-fangled super-slick Xbox 360s that came with the 250GB drive. Life is hard. I'd get the new Xbox for the entertainment center, and my wife would get the Elite with a smaller drive for the yoga room.
This did not work out as planned. As I documented in the Xbox 360 Kinect Bundle unboxing, the bundle doesn't come with a critical (and, of course, non-standard) cable necessary to kinect the Kinect to the old-style Xbox 360. What's worse, at least as of this week, Microsoft has no plans to make such a cable available separately. So she got the slick new Xbox and I didn't.
For the final indignity, when I unboxed the Xbox 360 bundle, I discovered the thing only came with crappy RCA cables. No HDMI. In my mind, the lack of the HDMI cable just added insult to injury.
Reason 7: What if your stupid, embarrassing, jumping pictures wind up on Facebook?
The Kinect (in either variation) comes with a cute, free game called Kinect Adventures. It's really a demo game, but it's a good, engaging demo game. There's only one problem. Your embarrassing pictures could wind up on the Internet.
Here's what happens. As you play a level in Kinect Adventures, the Kinect snaps a number of silly, digital camera images, generally of places where you're jumping or squatting. At the end of the level, it shows you those pictures.
So far, it's just humbling, but no great loss. But there is a risk. Now, to be fair, there are three or four steps you will need to take for these things to be released into the wild, but still -- it's possible.
Unless you turn off the "take my picture" option (something you have to do on a game-by-game basis and not all games allow this), your pictures are taken and stored in the Xbox 360. Next, you can choose to upload those pictures to KinectShare.com to share them with your friends. You can also link your KinectShare.com account with your Facebook account.
Do you see where this is going? If you upload pictures to KinectShare, they could wind up published to your Facebook page.
That brings up one final thought. If you ever sell your Xbox, you should probably be aware that those pictures could go with it. Oh, joy.
Reason 8: Jumping
It seems like an awful lot of the Kinect experience involves jumping. I don't jump. Ever. If you're like me and you don't ever, ever jump, you're probably not going to like the Kinect.
As I said at the beginning, the Kinect is amazing and I do honestly look forward to where this technology will go -- particularly outside the gaming world.
But there are a lot of flaws that may not make it practical for most consumers. Most of the flaws (like the heavily modal nature of the interface) are merely annoying.
The biggest flaw, though -- the real-world space requirements -- could well be a deal-breaker. We'll find out soon how many of these things are returned by disappointed consumers.