Out of the box

Setting up Kinect couldn't be simpler. The cameras reside in a tube of glossy black plastic about the size of a paper towel tube, attached to a motorised stand that you position facing you two to six feet off the floor above or below your TV screen. Kinect draws power directly from newer slimline Xbox 360s by plugging into a special orange-coloured USB port. If you have an older model, you'll plug the sensor into one of the Xbox 360's standard USB ports and power it using a wall adapter included in the box.

From here, you'll run through a few exercises to fine tune sensor placement, speech recognition and determine your play space's dimensions. Speaking of, prepare to move tables, couches and chairs around, because Kinect's a room hog, requiring more square footage than either the Wii or PlayStation Move. You'll need to stand at least six feet from the sensor for solo play or eight for two player, and that's not counting side-to-side space. Player height matters as well, and you have to be at least a metre tall for the sensor to function properly.

But once that's done, you're in business and your Xbox 360 starts to make a groovy Wii-like sound.

Talk to the hand

At this point you're still using the gamepad to navigate the Xbox 360's standard menus, but you'll notice a black and white picture-in-picture window in the screen's lower right corner. That's the sensor's depiction of your playspace along with a shimmering, avatar-like version of you. When Kinect "sees" you, your avatar's hands glow, as if preparing to cast a spell.

Wave one hand back and forth in front of the sensor and you'll bring up Kinect Hub, the interface control centre for the sensor. Once you do, the Hub slides into view and assumes command. You can alternatively bring up the Hub with a voice command by saying "XBOX," which slips a black bar up from the screen bottom and presents a list of command options. Say "KINECT" from here and the hub springs to life.

Microsoft Kinect

From here, your hand operates like the tip of wand, and moving it over a selectable button, panel or icon causes a ring to appear and slowly fill like a clock. Hold your hand still and once the timer ring completes, your selection launches. Move it away and the timer ring stops. Arrow buttons at either side of the screen let you navigate left or right and as the pointer nears one, the interface performs a magnetic "snap-to" trick facilitating faster selection. Once selected, you simply flick your hand in the desired direction to flip the screen left or right. You'll sometimes snag on these "snap-to" buttons however and unintentionally flip the screen when you jerk your hand away.

Another problem with the interface involves using your hand to summon and keep the pointer in Kinect's "zone of recognition," which only extends invisibly some two feet wide by two feet high. Sit down or move out of the sensor's detection zone and the pointer disappears, requiring you stand and wave to bring it back. Once the pointer appears, it takes several seconds more hunting for the "zone" to calibrate to your hand. In other words, it takes more practice than you'd expect to get good at waking Kinect up quickly and moving the pointer around confidently.