I’m bummed about Xbox Kinect

At their press conference yesterday Microsoft announced the new Xbox One S, a smaller, slightly more powerful Xbox One console coming in August. It looks like a nice piece of gear, but I’m bummed about one thing: there is no Kinect port on it. Instead you have to use an Adapter (if your existing Xbox One and Kinect are registered with Microsoft you can get it free) and plug your Kinect into a USB port.

This bums me out. We really like Kinect. Specifically, we really like voice controls on the Xbox One for when we’re watching video (I don’t think either of us cares a fig about the camera stuff). So we want to keep Kinect, at least until Microsoft offers something better. But the Xbox One S, like the Xbox One, has only 3 USB ports. On our current Xbone one port is being used by the OTA Adapter (which admittedly is a lot less interesting now that Microsoft has scrapped plans to add DVR functionality for OTA broadcasts), one is being used for external storage. The other is left open for things like syncing controllers. If I were to purchase an Xbox One S I’d have to use all 3 USB ports, and one of them is on the front of the new system so I’d have a wire permanently dangling off the front of the machine. Nope.

In broader terms, removing the Kinect port seems to indicate Microsoft is packing it in and giving up on Kinect. Interestingly the Xbox One S has an IR blaster on the front of the unit (the Kinect uses an IR blaster to control your non-Xbox gear) and it still has a pass-through HDMI connection so they don’t seem to have given up on being your media center.

This summer Microsoft is rolling out Cortana on the Xbox One and you can use ‘her’ via a headset. I guess, moving forward, Microsoft expects everyone will be using a headset to do voice commands. I guess Microsoft thinks the entire Xbox audience is composed of single people who sit alone in a room with their Xbox.

For us, voice commands are used mostly during media playback which we enjoy together. For one of us to have to wear a headset to issue voice commands is just ridiculous.

Of course there’s an easy fix: Microsoft needs to release a ‘room microphone’ for the Xbox One S, or perhaps a media remote with a microphone built in, though I hasten to add that the mike needs to be always listening. If I have to grab a remote and press a button to use voice commands, I won’t bother (I’m looking at you, Amazon Fire TV).

Assuming the IR blaster on the Xbox One S works as well as the one in Kinect (and given that the Kinect is perched up high on top of my TV, I’m not 100% convinced this will be the case), adding a microphone would give us back the capabilities of the Kinect that we actually use.

Unless something changes I’ll be skipping the Xbox One S because we like voice commands and the new console just seems less voice-friendly. I feel like Microsoft is back-sliding at this point in its attempt to win back gamers. Honestly our Xbox gets used a LOT more as a media center than it does as a game machine, but presumably we’re no longer the intended Xbox audience.

I’m really interested to see how they pitch Project Scorpio next year.

Gaming console, motion controlled mis-adventures

So here’s my cluster-f**k story of getting Kinect to work in our living room.

Over the past few weeks I’ve finally accumulated a Tri-Mount ($30) and a Nyko Zoom ($30). I became aware of both of these gadgets back during E3 but now they’re finally on the market. So today I was ready to set everything up when Angela made sad eyes at me because I was going to take away “her” Kinect (set up in the office on my old launch 360). So it was off to Best Buy to purchase another Kinect sensor.

Good news? $25 gift card if you buy a Kinect this weekend, and they now come with a code for the full version of Child of Eden. Bad news? Another $150.

Screw-up #1 is that my TV is too fat for the Tri-Mount to fit on. But just very slightly too fat. The Tri-Mount has a long screw fixture that you use to adjust the thing. We disassembled it and pulled the ‘tongue’ out just a tad farther and hot-glued it there and it now fits on the TV. Hopefully it’ll hold because it’s just a friction fit. When set up right you can tighten up the screw assembly to ensure a tight, secure grips.

So I set everything up, including attaching the Zoom, moved the coffee table and fired up the Xbox. Things were going OK until Kinect tried to look down at the floor and reported it couldn’t see it. Huh? I tried again. Same thing. I think that, because the Tri-Mount is so hyper-extended backwards, the Kinect is back so far that, with the Zoom (which is essentially a wide-angle lens, as far as I can tell) attached the top of the TV (and/or the Playstation Eye, which sits in front of and below the Kinect) is blocking the line of site of the Zoom.

Here’s the kick in the teeth part, though. So with nothing left to lose I remove the Zoom and guess what? Since the Kinect is now so far back…there was enough room in the living room for it to calibrate, if I stand right against the couch. /facepalm

So the good news is I have the thing setup. I have no room for leaping about but nor do I have any interest in that. I wanted it for voice commands, mostly, and whatever else they put into ‘core games’ that I can do sitting down. I played 3 rounds of a demo of Fruit Ninja Kinect to re-assure myself that flailing around in front of the TV is still not fun.

The other good news is that I fired up the PS3 and grabbed a Move controller to make sure that was still working. Popped in The Shoot since it was handy. And re-assured myself that the Move is still a blast to mess around with. I have that cheap-o Pistol thing and it turns The Move into a really fun light-gun game. Really fun for a few minutes anyway.

I still think a good old controller is the best way to play video games for anything more than 15 minutes, unless your goal is to get some exercise. But I’ll enjoy talking to the Kinect and will continue to dabble with the Move now and then, so at the end of the day it’s all good.

However, Microsoft really needs to work on making the Kinect small-room friendly. Or just make a voice-only model.

Fable: The Journey isn’t Fable IV

During a “hand’s on” demo of Fable: The Journey for G4 TV, Peter Molyneux made a point of saying that Fable: The Journey isn’t Fable IV. I’m going to paraphrase, but essentially he said The Journey is a kind of side-story, and was created because Microsoft asked Lionhead to come up with a ‘core game’ for Kinect. The Journey is about a Wanderer, but, Molyneux said, Fable 1, 2, 3 & 4 are about the Hero. Yes, he absolutely mentioned Fable 4 when he was saying this (though he may have not used “hero” to describe the main character..I’m doing this from memory).

No other details in Fable 4 yet, though.

He also assured the G4 audience that The Journey isn’t on rails but they restricted the press conference demo just to reduce the possibility of something going wrong. We’ll see. The magic system looked more interesting when we got a longer look at it with Molyneux explaining what was going on. My favorite part was when the player “extruded” a spear from mana and then hurled it at an enemy.

It was enough to at least put Fable: The Journey on my personal watch list, assuming the Nyko Zoom actually makes Kinect able to work in our living room.