Nine months ago, we published a piece about the imminent arrival of two accessories that could change the gaming market forever: PlayStation Move and Xbox Kinect. At the time, the devices had not yet hit stores and we could only speculate whether Sony or Microsoft would be able to steal casual gamers away from Nintendo. Now that both accessories have been in the hands of consumers, developers, and hackers for approximately six months, I believe it is safe to say that Kinect is the superior device.
From a gaming standpoint, Kinect does what PlayStation Move fails to do — make gaming even more accessible. The Nintendo Wii has already proven that games can still be an enjoyable experience for those that did not grow up with the traditional controller. Both of these new accessories, from the respective companies, try to make the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 friendlier for casual gamers.
However, the PlayStation Move and its lineup of games is too familiar to what Nintendo brought to the table almost three years ago. Yes, Move builds upon Nintendo’s accelerometer-based wand with exceptional one-to-one tracking via the PlayStation Eye and the Move’s light-emitting diode. Unfortunately, Sony does little to change the course and the gaming experience feels like it is just the Wii with better graphics.
On the other hand, Kinect gets rid of controllers and magic wands completely; providing the best controller-free experience to date. Games require the use of the entire body to play rather than a wand determining the motion of your wrists or forearms. This makes Kinect a friendly device for anyone regardless of gaming experience. Gameplay is a lot more intuitive than anything else available. Rather than upgrading a competitor’s technology, the Kinect goes for a more revolutionary interpretation of “controller-free” gaming. Microsoft took a great risk and made a wise move, they deserve the easy win.
Kinect is packed to the gills with features that give it some of the world’s most innovative 3D mapping and voice/facial recognition software making it a wonderful toy for programmers and hackers. However, instead of locking down their device, Microsoft has actually given their approval for the use of open source drivers. Alex Kipman, Xbox Director of Incubation, has said this was always intended. On an episode of Science Friday, he explained that the Kinect does not need to be hacked:
“Hacking would mean that someone got to our algorithms that sits inside of the Xbox and was able to actually use them, which hasn’t happened. Or, it means that you put a device between the sensor and the Xbox for means of cheating, which also has not happened. That’s what we call hacking…What has happened is someone wrote an open-source driver for PCs that essentially opens the USB connection, which we didn’t protect, by design, and reads the inputs from the sensor.”
Microsoft left the product open by design because they knew that limiting Kinect’s state of the art software would prevent users from discovering unique ways of augmenting their own reality. By giving the thumbs up to programmers, Microsoft only wants one thing to limit a user’s Kinect experience — their imagination.
Real World Applications
Because Microsoft has officially given the keys to the developmental castle to their ever-growing customer base, amazing real world applications are now just a download away. Although there are a ton of hacks and mods across the internet, the Augmented Reality Magic Mirror is a personal favorite that demonstrates the capabilities of a great product if users are given a chance to experiment.
Tobias Blum and his team of researchers at the Technical University of Munich have been able to store a CT dataset, perform an augmented reality overlay, which then allows one to see their own skeleton in real-time. Simply put, Blum is able to use the Kinect as an x-ray window into a user’s body. Although this is still in very early stages, the potential for education and medical use is potentially limitless.
Is Future Spelled K-I-N-E-C-T?
Blum’s “magic mirror” is only a small sample of what the Kinect can do outside of the world of video games. In fact, a team of doctors at Sunnybrook Hospital have recently started using the Kinect to improve patient care. Due to its controller-free nature, doctors have been able to zoom in and out or freeze important medical photos and documents saving precious time. In a field where time is everything, the Kinect allows doctors to do their jobs better, and arguably, increase their chances at saving lives.
With applications like these, Kinect is quickly becoming so much more than just a video game accessory. It may have been designed for entertainment, but it is now lending its powerful abilities to help make the world a better place — or if anything, a bit cooler. And if I am going to spend about a hundred bucks on Kinect or Move, I would rather buy a camera that can let me see inside my own body rather than a light changing wand. Although things are still relatively early, Kinect has clearly shown that it is a much more complete package than its Sony counterpart. I can not say for certain that Kinect has pushed the Xbox 360 to the front of the console wars, but it definitely won this crucial battle.