Cameras? IR emitters? Natal? Kinect? Xbox 360? WTF? Give us three minutes. We can explain everything.
Let's boil this down to its most simple: Kinect is an Xbox 360 peripheral. Think of it as a webcam on steroids that plugs into the console's USB port that looks like it belongs with a PS3.
Yes, you've heard "Project Natal" for a year now—and we've covered "Natal" extensively (read this and this if you haven't). That was just the working title. Now, it's called Kinect...which is horribly confusing to those of us who played Nike Kinetic on Sony's EyeToy, right?
So Kinect is smarter than your average webcam. First, it has excellent sight thanks to its secret trick: spotlighting the room with invisible infrared light. The camera sees you wonderfully thanks to this infrared. And, coupled with some advanced software that will run on the 360, it can track 48 points of your body in realtime for up to two players simultaneously.
Kinect is equipped with a microphone so you can talk to the 360. Also, it doesn't just see you in IR; it can also film you in full RGB color, recognizing your face to automatically sign you in. And its tilt? Fully motorized to track you! Oohhhh.
When Kinect is equipped, you'll use a separate menu system than you've known on the 360. It's simpler, ditching tabs for simpler iconography. To load Netflix, you can wave to hit the Netflix button, or you just say "Netflix." Pause by telling it to pause or reaching in the air to grab a virtual pause button.
Whether your friends are on Xbox Live or Windows Live Messenger, you can video chat with them. But you can also do some other neat stuff, like watch a video together. And as mentioned above, it can track you in realtime thanks to motion sensing and the motorized tilt.
November 4th, to be exact. Likely for $150.
The four we heard about:
• Kinectimals—think Nintendogs in HD with deadly, endangered species.
• Kinect Sports—Microsoft's answer to Wii Sports (with bowling, soccer, ping pong, track & field, boxing and volleyball).
• Kinect Joy Ride—a zany racing game that we found fun but a touch loose in terms of controls
• Kinect Adventures!—"jump, duck and dodge" as you ride through various obstacle courses (20 in all)
• Your Shape Fitness Evolved—Ubsisoft fitness game with potential depth and plenty of polish
• Dance Central—a hip hop dance game by Harmonix...way more advanced (and potentially embarrassing) than DDR
• Star Wars: We don't know much about the upcoming LucasArts Star Wars Kinect title, but it involves lightsabers and cartoonish graphics (but not due until 2011)
• Unnamed (Forza?) racing title from Turn 10: It's a realistic racing game from the guys who made Forza that looks more polished than anything else we've seen thus far (due 2011)
Kinect is truly impressive in our early hands-ons, no doubt. It can track your full body as you spike a volleyball, or it can just watch your hands as you mime a steering wheel. But there's a perpetual, slight lag. And, in the game demos we've seen and tried, frame rates in even these somewhat simple games can suffer—most probably because Kinect requires the Xbox 360 to process all of its data—there's no internal processor in their final build of the device.
Even if Microsoft never eliminates Kinect's lag, its functionality as an invisible remote is way more enticing than some 200-button universal.
Microsoft told us last year, Kinect is more than just an attempt to clone the Wiimote. It may very well bridge the gap between the Xbox 360 and the inevitable Xbox 720.