Well, I’ve seen it, and I’ve tried it. And I am not blown away.

On the positive side, yes, it does work. Wave your hand, your little avatar waves back. Squat. Kick. Jump. Stick your head between your knees. No problem… the little onscreen goof follows right along.

Furthermore, Kinect can be a great workout. From a standing start, I was quickly breathless as I side-stepped and hopped my way through a white-water rafting course. Then ducked barriers as my little trolley rolled along a roller-coaster track. And finally, batted balls in a 3D version of Breakout. (The latter, oddly enough, was by far the most interesting part of the demo.)

On the downside: the Kinect doesn’t seem to work any better than, say, the Wii controller. Movements are registered approximately at best. If there’s any forward-backward tracking (‘into’ the screen), it was not in evidence. And worst of all, there was massive lag — a near-half-second delay between body movement and onscreen echo.

You adjust pretty quickly, and the Kinect seems to do a pretty good job with the Silly Sports games that Microsoft is using to promote the new controller. But if you’re dreaming of a first-person shooter where you go “Pew! Pew!” with your finger, I think you can forget it. From what I experienced, targeting would be neither fast enough nor positive enough to make the experience anything other than an exercise in frustration.

Of course, that’s only a ‘first look.’ The Microsoft demonstrator had no idea whether we were using alpha or beta software. He did attempt to deny the existence of what I called control “lag” — while seeming to be well aware of the effect I was talking about. Only the one game was running, and I was not able to try using the Kinect with the Xbox Live interface.

Based on this limited trial, I’d give the Kinect a cautious passing grade for existing Xbox 360 owners who want a more physical gaming experience, but don’t want to shell out for a Wii. And a tentative failing grade for anything else.

More to come…


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