Getting Kinect working perfectly in a real living room takes a little thinking about. Families I talk to often express initial frustration with the hands-free controller and feel like they must be doing something wrong.
The first thing to say is that unlike other motion-controlled systems Kinect does need some thought and preparation to get the most out of it. What it’s trying to achieve is much more ambitious that detect movement in a held object like the Wii’s MotionPlus or PS3′s Move controllers. This investment is rewarded with games that are as much about creating theater in your living room as they are about adding waggle to gaming experiences.
Position: One key aspect of getting the most out of Kinect in my experience is the position of the Kinect controller. If it’s too high or too low the camera has to look up/down at the player and work harder to distinguish their movements (torso in particular).
Because a lot of TVs are positioned at a height to be watched when seated this can result in a low position for the sensor. Having the bar at waist height when standing has given the best result in most locations I’ve set up.
For me this has meant using a TV Mount ($5 on Amazon) that positioned the Kinect sensor above my TV. This small adjustment made a big difference, particularly with the younger members of my family — and it also kept it out of reach of my youngest who loved the “ratchet” sound Kinect made when he forced the camera up and down.
Angle: If you have your TV mounted higher, or if you use a projector, another option is a Kinect Floor Stand ($9 on Amazon). This enables you to position the sensor not only at an appropriate height but also at an angle that suits the amount of space you have to play in.
This has been useful in smaller family spaces because it enables games to be played across the diagonal of the room, maximizing the distance between the player and the camera.
Provided you are facing the camera when you are playing, this approach works fine. One family I know would point their projector at the far end of their room when playing Kinect games, and then use a Kinect Floor Stand to position the controller in an ideal spot.
Distance: The biggest misconception about Kinect is that the hardware needs a certain amount of space to work properly. In fact this isn’t defined by the controller at all but is down to each game’s implementation. Games like Kinectimals and Kinect Sports are more ambitious with what they are trying to detect and require more space. However, games like Fruit Ninja Kinect or Leedmees (as well as some of the more recent titles) are more flexible and allow you to stand closer to control them.
Often the issue is where you should stand rather than how far away you can get. Using a Kinect Mat ($19 on Amazon) or throwing a rug down to mark the ideal spot helped my kids notice when they drifted out of shot during game-play — they have the tendency to drift ever closer to the screen.
If you have a particularly small play-space in front of the Xbox, you can use one of the Kinect Zoom ($13 Amazon) products that place a magnifying lens in from of the Kinect camera to shorten and widen the area in which you need to stand.
Conclusion: Time spent setting up the Kinect controller will mean you can get the more out of it. In my family we’ve often been a little frustrated by it. However, some investment from me to get it working has resulted in some of our most valuable play times in years — from the simple pleasure of flying with Peter Pan in Disneyland Adventures, to the instant thrill of slicing fruit in Kinect Fruit Ninja, to the eerie reality of turning my head to look left/right in Forza 4.
[Header Image Credit flickr/scottvanderchijs]