Owner of a lonely hub

As you do, you'll notice there's not much to see in the Hub. You can fiddle with your Kinect ID, view friends, check game achievements and dress your avatar, all stuff you can already do with a gamepad quicker and more accurately. You can also launch Kinect games, sign into or out of Xbox Live, view video trailers or bring up a few Kinect-enabled apps. Of these, the new ESPN channel and Zune music service offer the most promise, allowing you to shuffle through music and movie selections with your hands almost like Tom Cruise in the movie Minority Report.

Better still, you can do any of the above using simple voice commands. Say "XBOX" and "PLAY MUSIC" to launch a song, or "XBOX" and "PAUSE" to halt a video. Kinect's voice recognition works almost perfectly and only fails if you speak too softly. If there's a downside, it's that the recognition algorithms can't be trained to your voice, allowing anyone in the room to sound off and interrupt what you're doing. It's a shame there's no "XBOX OFF" command, but for now, it's probably a blessing.

But if you're wondering what else you'll do with Kinect aside from gaming, you'll have to wait for whatever else is in the offing, or for obvious third parties like Netflix to come around. Even a few existing Hub apps come half-baked, kicking you out of the Hub altogether when selected and requiring you pick back up your gamepad and tap along. There's still considerable disparity between which parts of the Xbox 360's interface belong to Kinect and which ones don't, in other words.

Everybody was party gaming

Play through Kinect's launch games lineup and it's clear Microsoft's less after serious gamers than families and groups of friends who'll probably break out the system during parties or holidays. Imagine players laughing, joking and generally caring less about perfecting a score than the experience of playing (or spectating) unencumbered by wires or controllers.

That's the sort of experience you'll have if you play the sensor's pack-in game Kinect Adventures, for instance, which offers over a dozen clever mini-game riffs on the standard "sports activities" theme but suffers from systemic motion-tracking vagueness. Or take Kinect Sports, which includes classics like boxing and bowling but shares Kinect Adventures' fuzzy tracking, making serious competition clumsy at best.

Joy Ride, a stunt-angled racing game that reads torso shifts and arm thrusts to trigger flips and speed boosts probably fares best in terms of matching body input to gameplay output, but still feels like a step or two backwards contrasted with the precision of a gamepad or steering wheel controller.

The most promising application isn't even a game, technically speaking. Your Shape: Fitness Evolved scans in your body, dishes out activities ranging from yoga to martial arts and tai chi, then keeps an eye on everything from your fitness regimen to form. That, and Kinectimals, a ridiculously charming children's game in which you befriend behaviourally sophisticated lions, cheetahs, bengal tigers, panthers and leopards, herald the real future of the technology.


Of course the question all this raises is why anyone would want to wave their hands around and take twice as long to do what they already can, with greater accuracy and speed, using a gamepad or remote control. The answer is they wouldn't.

For show, yes, or spectacle at a party or family gathering, but for practical everyday gaming, Kinect comes across as a wonderful idea with tremendous potential, but one that's still in need of a smarter interface and better controls.