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Kinect vs. our living rooms: A survey


Some of us at Joystiq have had Kinect units in our living rooms for a week or so now and, as you read in our review, Kinect can be especially sensitive about your interior decorating. Couch too close to the television? Just move it, the sensor advises. Massive coffee table right where you should be standing? Just slide it out of the way, it suggests. For some of us, this ad-hoc redecorating process is relatively painless.

For others (like this writer!) a massive, solid wood coffee table isn't moved so easily. Just amongst our own relatively small collection of sample data, it's obvious that no two living rooms are alike, so we collected some pictures and simple measurements to illustrate Kinect's not-entirely-unexpected weakness: coffee tables. Join us after the break.

We'll start off with Randy's image from our review this morning because it has one important indicator: the 7' mark. That's the ideal distance you want to be playing Kinect from and, in Randy's case (the poor sod), it's smack dab in the middle of his rather heavy steel and glass coffee table. And no, it doesn't have wheels. In Randy's experience with Kinect, two games (Kinect Joy Ride and Kinectimals) were playable while standing in front of the table, while the other five he tried either told him he was standing too close or, in the case of Kinect Sports, wouldn't even progress past the title screen. Moving the table is possible, but a chore, and something he really only expects he'll do when friends are over.

Alexander picked a Kinect up this morning and was immediately greeted with a harsh reality: His gaming area isn't big enough for many of the games. First off, he needed to get it between the two- and six-foot height requirement – thanks to that stack of games there, he was able to do that. Next, he needed to get it further from his couch – attached flush to the wall puts the front lip of his couch at seven feet, just barely enough for Dance Central to see above his knees and not enough for two players in Kinect Adventures.

I too snagged a Kinect this morning and figured that, since my living room is the closest approximation Team Joystiq has to an actual Kinect set, things would work flawlessly. In actuality, my heavier-than-it-looks coffee table is right in the sweet spot. Moving it is a cumbersome process (ignore this picture, it's normally full of magazines and game controllers) and playing in front of it works ... sometimes. The Dashboard will frequently lose track of my hands and Kinect Adventures scores that squarely in the single-player only region of play. With the table removed, things are much smoother but that's a pretty large barrier to play when I've got a controller sitting right there. On my coffee table.

With just four-and-a-half feet between the wall and his coffee table, Justin "Hoops" McElroy didn't even bother trying to play in front of it. Instead, he (effortlessly!) hurled his coffee table to the side (see above) and was granted seven-and-a-half feet of unobstructed Game Zone. Unfortunately, that still isn't enough for some games, like the two-player component of Kinect Adventures.

Despite a modest (that's a nice way of saying small) San Francisco apartment, Dave is unencumbered by a coffee table and, as a result, has a wide-open spot to get his Kinect on. As the last Joystiq'er to actually test a Kinect in his domicile, Dave found the device works surprisingly well. It has little-to-no problem recognizing him and his brief play tests in both Kinect Adventures and Dance Central so far have yielded no complaints.

Now we're onto the theoretical test cases of Joystiq writers' living rooms and the potential for Kinect, though they haven't gotten a Kinect yet. Ben's modest (see above) Brooklyn apartment will demand removal of the coffee table; luckily, it's a manageable feat and, with it removed, he shouldn't have any trouble with single-player games. He is, however, on the cusp of not being able to accommodate two players.

James very neat Zen Zone should work great, with the ottoman slash coffee table tucked out of the way. In place, he probably won't be able to do much of anything.

Unfortunately, Luddy's South African gaming cave isn't very Kinect friendly. Because of some cabinets along the wall, he can't push the couch back any further and it's unlikely that his four-foot three-inch clearing will be enough to do anything short of voice commands with Kinect ... least of all Dance Central (you remember these moves, right?).

Richard's Oklahoman outpost should have plenty of room for busting moves and Game Boating, so long as that coffee table is out of the way. Lucky for Dick Mitchell, it has wheels.

The Takeaway (or: You need to Take Away your coffee table)
Our takeaway is simple: Most living rooms will work with Kinect, but you're going to have to move that coffee table out of the way. If your coffee table is made of glass and steel or a solid block of wood, you're going to be far less inclined to move it and, as a result, far less inclined to connect with your Kinect. It's unclear if these limitations are software- or hardware-based and it's unclear if the system's overwhelming desire for standing is predicated on the "active" marketing of Kinect.

While it's easy to suggest that Kinect's inability to accommodate living room configurations of all sorts is a major weakness, it's inversely impressive that it works in as many configurations as it does. Sure, in some instances (like Justin's) you're limited to single-player only by a 30-year mortgage, but in others it's as simple as sliding that coffee table to the side. In yet others, it's a task of finding the strength – both physically and psychologically – to move a larger coffee table out of the way. Maybe that's where those Kinect exercise games come in. "Let's move that coffee table with a one, and a two, and a three ..."

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