Nov 042010
 
Kinect Sign
Image by camknows via Flickr

With the money Microsoft has spent on failed efforts to design hardware, you could finance a trip to Mars.

Its failures make up quite a flop parade: WebTV. Spot Watch. Ultimate TV. Ultra Mobile PC. Tablet PC. Smart Display. Portable Media Center. Zune. Kin phone. If this were ancient Greece, you’d wonder what Microsoft had done to annoy the gods.

There is, of course, an exception the size of Mount Olympus: the Xbox.

With 45 million game consoles sold, Xbox 360 is Microsoft’s monster hardware hit. And today, what will surely be its second monster hit goes on sale: the Kinect.

The Kinect (“kinetic” plus “connect,” get it?) is an add-on for the existing Xbox 360. If you already have an Xbox, you can buy the Kinect for $150, or you can buy it with a four-gigabyte Xbox for $300 — if you can find it in stock.

The Kinect is a glossy, foot-wide, black plastic horizontal bar. You plug its single cable into your Xbox. (If you have the bulkier, pre-2010 Xbox, you also have to plug the Kinect’s power cord into the wall.) You park the Kinect itself on, or beside, your TV. During start-up, a motor moves the bar on its stand, making it scan the room up and down like some would-be Wall-E.

It has four microphones and three little lenses: a video camera, an infrared projector and a distance sensor. Together, these lenses determine where you are in the room.

And not just you. The system tracks 48 parts of your body in three-dimensional space. It doesn’t just know where your hand is, like the Wii. No, the Kinect tracks the motion of your head, hands, torso, waist, knees, feet and so on.

The point is to let you control games with your body, without having to find, hold, learn or recharge a controller. Your digital stunt double appears on the TV screen. What you do, it does.

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