8 reasons you might NOT want to buy a Kinect

8 reasons you might NOT want to buy a Kinect

Summary: 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.

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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.

Next: Reasons 4, 5, and 6 »

« Previous: Reasons 1 and 2

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

You may have noticed that I did both a Microsoft Kinect Unboxing and a Sexy new Xbox 360 Kinect Bundle unboxing.

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.

Next: Reasons 7 and 8 »

« Previous: Reasons 4, 5, and 6

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.

Final thoughts

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.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Microsoft

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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104 comments
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  • RE: 8 reasons you might NOT want to buy a Kinect

    So in other words, to use a Kinect you have to be in shape or at least have the ability to get off your butt and leave the couch for more than 5 minutes. I can see that being a problem for some, not so much for others.
    Loverock Davidson
    • RE: 8 reasons you might NOT want to buy a Kinect

      @Loverock Davidson

      No, the primary reason is that you have to have a living room the size of an airplane hangar (fortunately I have a huge living room with vaulted ceilings and plenty of room), and most people don't have a living room that size to play in....

      I had to strategically rearrange my living room just to use the Wii because my arms were arcing and hitting stuff...

      You have to look at this from a physical standpoint...the Kinect is a great device, don't get me wrong, but most people can't use it.
      cyberslammer2
      • Funny

        @cyberslammer2 I have mine in a area that is about 7' x 5'

        Not even close to an airplane hangar... do you even have one or used one to be allowed an opinion?
        TGGR
      • RE: 8 reasons you might NOT want to buy a Kinect

        @cyberslammer2
        "..living room the size of an airplane hangar"..Wow I have a small LR and we are enjoying the hell out of this device...It sure is a workout though...It is has been a great addition for the family
        patchman
    • I wouldn't use a Kinect.

      @Loverock Davidson ... full keyboard/mouse is the right control for video games, and for exercise I go to the gym. I don't exercise in my living room.
      HollywoodDog
      • RE: 8 reasons you might NOT want to buy a Kinect

        @HollywoodDog,
        " full keyboard/mouse is the right control for video games"
        <br>So in your opinion, a dancing game like Dance Central or the next year "Michael Jackson, The Experience", are meant to be played with keyboard/mouse instead of Kinect. Are you sure about that?
        dvm
    • RE: 8 reasons you might NOT want to buy a Kinect

      @Loverock Davidson No it just sounds like you need very big rooms.
      Jimster480
  • I must be a GENIUS!!

    Funny how over the last few years on ZDNet, I've been told that only the most brilliant people in the world could ever run Windows without getting infected by malware. Since none of my multiple computers have ever been infected by malware, the only conclusion is that I'm [b]brilliant[/b] to the extreme.

    Now I find out that I have the unique ability to get Kinect working within the advertised space requirements. That can only mean one thing: I'm even [b]more[/b] brilliant than I'd originally been led to believe!

    Kinect is truly the most magical and revolutionary device to have been released in the last few years. I'm really enjoying mine and while you are right about the lack of consistency as far as using Kinect to control your videos or the main dashboard, it simply isn't that big of deal and doesn't detract from the fun my friends and I are having with Kinect. If someone was planning to buy Kinect for the sole purpose of controlling their dashboard or their video, they should be dissuaded from doing so. There, that takes care of that 0.01% of the XBox population! The other 99.99% will have a lot of fun with Kinect.
    NonZealot
    • The almighty defender of everything MS

      Kinect sounds like another MS turd, ROFLOL!

      @NonZealot
      GoPower
      • I'm actually ROTFL

        at your reply GoPower. I'd hate to be you, resigned to petty posts because Kinect is doing so well, even over your objections!

        LOL!
        John Zern
      • RE: 8 reasons you might NOT want to buy a Kinect

        @GoPower Apple fan I presume?
        Allstars427
    • RE: 8 reasons you might NOT want to buy a Kinect

      @NonZealot

      If all it does is video games then it is useless. I'd rather go outside (or into the rink) and take part in team or individual sports.

      If it becomes part of a better way to interact with our media centers and other tools then they are onto something.

      Since I will never own an Xbox (or other game console) then they better make some Linux drivers for linux CE devices (like the boxee box) or I'll buy it from the next person who does a better job.

      Keeping this a niche device would be a mistake
      maskman01
      • RE: 8 reasons you might NOT want to buy a Kinect

        @maskman01
        [i]If all it does is video games then it is useless[/i] [b]to me[/b] <--- you forgot those 2 words.

        [i]Since I will never own an Xbox[/i]

        Then Kinect isn't for you. You just wrote the equivalent of: Winter tires are useless. Since I will never own a car, they better make some winter tires for my boots.

        [i]or I'll buy it from the next person who does a better job.[/i]

        That is what choice is all about! Ain't it grand?

        [i]they better make some Linux drivers for linux CE devices[/i]

        Sure, MS will do that right after Apple gives Boxee access to iTMS.

        [i]Keeping this a niche device would be a mistake[/i]

        I never underestimate MS's ability to make mistakes. :) Will we see Kinect morph into something more generic? Possibly. In the meantime, just wait for the open source community to write your drivers then go buy one of these bad boys! In the meantime, I will be enjoying Kinect [b]today[/b] with my XBox. :)
        NonZealot
      • RE: 8 reasons you might NOT want to buy a Kinect

        @maskman01

        My dispute is your comment that it is revolutionary and forgot to mention "for the game market", which as I mentioned is a "niche" market.

        Kudos for bringing Apple into it. You have the sanity and stability of John Hinkley and I'm started to worry for you (and the innocent bystanders)
        maskman01
      • You certainly didn't make it clear in your response

        @maskman01
        [i]My dispute is your comment that it is revolutionary and forgot to mention "for the game market"[/i]

        Did Apple say that the iPad was magical and revolutionary for the Tablet market or was that implied by the fact that iPad is a (crippled) Tablet?

        Kinect for XBox, as the name implies, is magical and revolutionary for the console market which, btw, currently do much more than just play games. And if MS releases a version of this for the PC, it will then become magical and revolutionary for the PC market.

        [i]is a "niche" market[/i]

        Yeah. Hundreds of millions of people disagree with you but that's okay. You will just have to agree to disagree with every single one of them.
        NonZealot
      • RE: 8 reasons you might NOT want to buy a Kinect

        @John Hinckley

        Here we go.

        1) Don't feel bad about not understanding the first post. After watching you struggle to understand what a question mark was earlier this week, I realize you have some language barriers

        2) Don't own and iPad. Don't see myself owning an iPad. I have seen it solving several issue in different markets. Media (ie Video, music), Work (email, documents), Internet, education, games, retail, etc. My friend's wife uses one to work with autistic kids. More then one use/market means it is more then a niche product. Once it magical. That was Apple's claim not mine. This brings me to the last point about what you called magical...

        3) The kinnect is a game control. That's it. One market; one use. That makes it a niche product. I won't argue that a lot of people waste their life away in that market, because I know they do.

        You need to relax, read, think, comment and let Apple go.
        maskman01
      • LOL! Take your own advice!

        @maskman01
        [i]You need to relax, read, think, comment and let [b]MS[/b] go.[/i]

        It obviously bothers you that Kinect is so successful that you are reduced to calling it a niche product. That's cool. Don't let Kinect's success keep you up at night! :)
        NonZealot
      • RE: 8 reasons you might NOT want to buy a Kinect

        @Mark David Chapman

        Wrong. It will bother me if they waste its potential and leave it as a glorified game controller.

        I'm being polite because this week I discovered you have literacy challenges. I used to think that you were just acting like a troll.
        maskman01
      • MS makes enough money without having you as a customer

        @maskman01
        Quite frankly, I suspect that the most profitable tech company in the world isn't the least bit upset that you are bothered by Kinect. After all, MS has billions of dollars in profit to soften the blow of disappointing maskman01. :)
        NonZealot
      • RE: 8 reasons you might NOT want to buy a Kinect

        @Zealot

        Before I forget. I use and appreciate MS products. My home laptop is an HP Laptop running Windows 7 and it works well.

        My point is they have something here that could change how we do everything. If it stays an expensive game controller then that is a waste.
        maskman01