Xbox One: Where is the Kinect We Were Promised?

518019629_13_oWhen I picked up my Xbox One on Nov. 22 I knew What I was getting myself into…at least I thought I did. Seeing as I pre-ordered the system in July (fairly shortly after Microsoft reversed its policies concerning DRM), you could probably say that I was hyped up for a new generation of consoles. In fact, I was even excited for the next iteration the Kinect – a feature heavily weaved into the infrastructure of Xbox One. Little did I know, Microsoft’s Kinect 2.0 would fail to deliver on almost every front regarding the immersive experience promised by the company throughout the course of the next-gen console’s marketing phase.

What bothers me most, however, is not the inability of game developers to fully utilize Kinect within their titles, as certain games (The Fighter Within) have already demonstrated their failure to successfully establish a decent set of motion controls. Rather, it is Microsoft’s lack of support, partnered with a decision to reduce the system’s GPU power allotted to Kinect’s video processing, that has me truly concerned. Maybe it was foolish of me to believe that Kinect 2.0’s overall performance pertaining to vocal and physical commands would be any better than that of the previous generation on Xbox 360, but it still doesn’t change the fact that Microsoft has some serious work to do if it plans on resurrecting the Kinect’s reputation.

What We Expected

xbox-one-revealObviously, I wasn’t expecting Kinect 2.0 to be exactly what Microsoft chalked it up to be, as E3 demos and videos aren’t necessarily the most reliable source of information when it comes to hands on-based technology, but I did expect Microsoft’s new sensor to be implemented in new, creative ways in the arena of gameplay, while also delivering pinpoint motion controls from a navigation standpoint. Interestingly enough, most of what we saw before the console’s release concerning Kinect 2.0 were demonstrations that showed off the ability to navigate Xbox One’s UI via vocal and physical commands, rather than actual gameplay features made possible via the sensor. So in that regard, I suppose Microsoft was smart not to promote gameplay associated with Kinect 2.0. And, while Kinect Sports Rivals handles fairly well from what I’ve personally experienced with the demo, I’m not so sure other games will be able to advance the technology much further throughout the lifespan of Xbox One – not to a point in which playing a motion-based game feels fluid at least.

The Shortcomings of Voice Commands and Motion Controls

The biggest problem with Kinect 2.0’s voice commands and motion controls is that they aren’t drastic improvements from the last generation of Kinect commands. 90 percent of the time, I’m able to utilize commands at an extremely effective level, which is definitely an upgrade from Xbox 360’s Kinect. However, that other 10 percent of the time causes frustration, ultimately leading to me picking up the controller in order to navigate the UI manually. Although only a minor setback, it begs me to ask the question – is the Kinect 2.0 really necessary and is it worth the extra $100 to the average consumer? Although navigating the UI with hand gestures and voice commands can be convenient every now and then, I’m not entirely sure these features are necessary, especially if they don’t work 100 percent of the time.

image-1-hero_large_verge_medium_landscapeKinect 2.0, while ambitious in its approach, misses its mark in the same way its predecessor does – burdensome motion controls. I’m not going to say that I think motion controls have no place in the gaming industry, as Wii has proven that certain games that utilize motion-based gameplay (Metroid Prime Trilogy, Skyward Sword, etc.) can be quite fun, but the lack of precision within Xbox One’s initial Kinect based games doesn’t give me much hope for the sensor’s future. In theory, being able to control a character based on your very own motions and gestures sounds incredibly appealing, as it begins to bridge the gap between reality and a variety of virtual worlds. Sadly, it doesn’t look like Kinect 2.0 will reach that level of immersion any time soon, especially if Microsoft decides to siphon power from the sensor in its next patch.

Unlocking Eight Percent More GPU Power on Xbox One – What Does it Mean for Kinect?

Currently, 10 percent of Xbox One’s GPU is reserved for its operating system and Kinect, but recent reports have cited Microsoft’s intent to cut that number down by eight percent, leaving two percent for Kinect’s voice controls/video processing. While additional power could end up giving developers the ability to stabilize frame rates for future games, the lack of concern for Kinect’s performance is somewhat alarming because it implies that Microsoft doesn’t believe Kinect 2.0 is being utilized in the way the company had originally envisioned. Without additional power, Xbox One’s sensor will basically become a bulky decoration in the living space of every gamer who has bought the system thus far. Granted, voice and motion controls will continue to function, but I wouldn’t expect future games to make much use of the Kinect.

dead-space-3-kinectSo, what does this all mean? Well, think back to games that utilize Kinect commands on Xbox 360. Simple voice commands such as “reload,” “give ammo,” etc. that became commonplace in last generation’s lineup of Xbox games will most likely follow suit on Xbox One. I can’t fault the developers for this, especially when designing a game will full Kinect implementation has become increasingly more risky from a business standpoint. We’ve seen this played out quite recently in The Fighter Within, a clunky fighting game that tries and fails miserably at implementing full motion controls via Kinect 2.0. Games such as this are fine as supplements to the system if owning a Kinect is optional, but because Microsoft has forced consumers to purchase its sensor alongside Xbox One, motion-based games should be delivering at a much higher level in terms of overall quality. For those who enjoyed the sensor on Xbox 360 and have continued to enjoy it on Xbox One, I wholeheartedly commend you for your patience, but I’ll gladly stick with my more traditional controller until Microsoft releases a game that proves Kinect 2.0’s worth to me.

Should Microsoft Release Xbox One Without Kinect?

Before I get into much detail, yes, Microsoft should definitely consider releasing a version of Xbox One without Kinect for a variety of reasons:

1.) No Kinect would allow Microsoft to compete with Sony

It has already been established that Kinect isn’t currently seeing the type of use Microsoft had originally intended for the console, so removing Kinect 2.0 from Xbox One entirely would allow the console to be priced at $399, a price point that matches PlayStation 4. Consumers who have been on the fence about which console to buy would have a much higher likelihood of purchasing an Xbox One if its price matches that of Sony’s console.

2.) Kinect is a great idea, but fails to execute

I enjoy my Kinect, I really do, but as a mandatory piece of hardware it suffers from a lack of quality motion-based games and sporadic commands. Allowing players to choose whether or not to purchase Kinect 2.0 for Xbox One – in a manner similar to Kinect for Xbox 360 – would probably win Microsoft a whole bunch of brownie points from its fans. Until motion and voice commands become more precise, it isn’t fair of Microsoft to force users to purchase the sensor in conjunction with the console.

3.) Microsoft is already lowering GPU power allotted to Kinect

At this point in time, this is the biggest reason why Microsoft should cease making Kinect mandatory alongside Xbox One. If Microsoft itself doesn’t believe Kinect is being fully utilized – showcased by reportedly decreasing its power  – then why should consumers think otherwise? If future Xbox One games aren’t going to take full advantage of Kinect’s motion and voice commands, then the sensor has no place as a mandatory piece of equipment.

So, Where is the Kinect We Were Promised?

258215_Xbox_One_Kinect_0001.jpgb08cf464-9c62-41a6-bde9-d54606c635b7LargeIn getting back to the underlying question of this article – Where is the Kinect we were promised? – I have a few reservations as to whether or not Microsoft really did give us something other than what it pledged. Kinect 2.0 is by no means perfect, but it functions fairly well in the arena of UI navigation – an element of Kinect heavily touted by Microsoft. With that in mind, did we get what we expected with Kinect 2.0? Sort of.

Kinect for Xbox One delivers fairly fluid motion controls and listens effectively about 90 percent of the time, both of which are improvements over Xbox 360’s Kinect and stand out as marks of success for the new sensor. Where it fails to deliver is with its implementation in the games themselves, as the commands still aren’t quite at the point in which they feel fluid and fun to use. Maybe one day in the near future a more powerful version of Kinect will allow users to fully integrate their bodies into a game without all of the hiccups, but Kinect 2.0 is not the answer at this juncture. I’ll be waiting patiently, hoping and praying that Kinect 3.0 gives players the ability to fully immerse themselves within a game without the added frustration of clunky controls.

-Ocarina of Time Nerd

Originally posted on

About Joel

Live, love, play video games.
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