The Kinect is this year's hot ticket for Christmas. Microsoft's new add-on device for the XBox 360 offers the promise of getting you up off the couch and engaged, using your whole body to play a variety of games. And there are other features that might get your interest—such as VideoKinect, the video chat system that uses Kinect's cameras and microphone to turn your television into a living room video conference with XBox-equipped friends or family.
Microsoft sold over 1 million Kinect units in the first 10 days it was available, and expects to sell as many as 5 million by the end of the year. That means that there are going to be a lot of them being opened up on December 25. But there are some things you should know before you wrap one up and put it under the tree.
The biggest one is the space requirement for the Kinect. If you don't have a decent-sized family room or living room, don't expect the Kinect to work too well – you'll need a lot of it to move around in to make the Kinect work. Six feet is the minimum distance the Kinect needs between it and the user, but it works best with eight or more feet of open space between you and your television. Apartment, condo and townhome dwellers may find that they need to radically modify their living space floorplans to accommodate this.
Kinect also has had some problems with its facial recognition feature, which helps it distinguish between two players and focuses the camera for video chat. The Kinetic ID feature was reported to have problems with users with darker skin, but Consumer Reports found the problem occurred because of inadequate lighting. (as shown in the video below). Maybe you won't need klieg lights to ensure it works, but you may need to brighten up the place a bit.
There's also a limited number of games out for the Kinect so far. Yes, the games available now are all family-friendly, and some (like Your Shape: Fitness Evolved) might be particularly attractive as an idea to older family members trying to get more active. Only Dance Central, a dancing game, has a "T for Teen" rating (probably because of the music)—the rest are rated "E", for all-ages. But your older children might quickly lose interest unless their friends are looking to video chat with them.
And honestly, the last thing I want to see is some of my teenage son's friends on my HD television screen. No offense, but some of them are annoying enough just in text message form.
There's one main reason I'm steering away from a Kinect this year: the XBox itself. We've had three XBox 360s in the last three years, and they've all died without warning for different reasons within a month or two of reaching warranty. My eldest son's XBox 360 died two days after the latest new XBox, the Slim, started to ship. And moving to the Slim requires buying another accessory to transfer the data from the existing XBox 360's hard drive. I'm waiting to hear about better reliability from XBox systems before I throw Microsoft more of my paycheck.