#kinect

Microsoft made a gaming box that didn’t game well, banked on controlling the content gateway with an expensive peripheral that customers despised and resented paying for, and wondered why it didn’t sell.
Charlie Demerjian, on Microsoft unbundling the Kinect from the Xbox One. The whole post is well worth the read for his take on how Microsoft has grown “irrelevant to computing”.

Chris Kohler on the news that Microsoft will soon begin selling a $399 version of the Xbox One without the Kinect:

Price is the problem, as others have learned recently. Getting Xbox One’s price in line with PlayStation 4′s was paramount, and matching Sony in terms of online video streaming features was as well since that is also an extra cost associated with Xbox ownership. Microsoft having to suck it up again and roll back a feature to get the price down illustrates that this was really its only feasible move. (Getting rid of an unpopular peripheral has got to hurt a lot less than Sony having to ditch backward compatibility to get PlayStation 3′s price to a palatable level.)

I’m not sold that price is the only problem here. As I’ve said from the outset, this latest generation of consoles sound like mediocre upgrades at best. They’re not Wii U-level disasters, but they’re just too “meh" to compete in a world that is increasingly mobile.

Further, I think Microsoft just created a quagmire for developers who were told time and time again that all Xbox One’s would ship with the Kinect. With the change, who in their right mind would create a game that takes full advantage of the device? And that, in turn, will ensure the device itself is not a success.

The Verge seems to really really really want to like the Xbox One, and yet we get stuff like this:

But the hardest part of setting up the Xbox One is simply getting used to the console’s user interface. Where Sony’s PlayStation 4 gives you a simple scrolling list of everything on your console — a visual paradigm that, while possibly cumbersome, immediately makes sense — the Xbox One is a smorgasbord of colored Windows 8-style tiles in seemingly arbitrary locations.

And this:

Even if you buy a physical disc, all Xbox One games require installation. You can indeed play games while they install, and they start installing as soon as you pop the disc in the drive, but it takes a lot longer than on Sony’s new PlayStation: it took 19 minutes for Call of Duty: Ghosts to install 54 percent of the game, at which point it allowed me to start playing. And even with the installations, load times aren’t any better than last generation. We still had to contend with tedious load screens for most of the games we played — it took more than a minute and a half to load Dead Rising 3 from the home screen, much longer than anything on the PS4. This much waiting feels even more ridiculous as the Xbox gets ever more powerful.

And this:

But while the ideas are great, the execution just isn’t there. For starters, passing my TiVo through the Xbox One darkened the picture and stripped the signal of its Dolby Digital audio encoding, taking away surround sound. There’s a beta option to transcode Dolby into DTS or PCM audio, but it didn’t seem to work for me, and Microsoft says it might cause additional video distortion with some cable boxes until it’s out of beta. If you have a home theater system, this is an immediate deal breaker; I wouldn’t let the Xbox One near your cable box until it can pass the signal unmolested.

And this:

But Kinect doesn’t always work. It’s simply not reliable or flexible enough. Often, I felt like I spent more time screaming at the Kinect to follow my commands than it would have taken to just pick up the controller. I begged, I pleaded with the device to do what I wanted in the most commanding yet humble tone I could muster, and on many occasions it indeed felt like I had the robotic butler of my dreams. Most of the time, though, it felt like my butler was a little hard of hearing.

And this:

There are two distinct ways the Kinect fails, and the first feels inexcusable. Many of the voice commands are extremely rigid, to the point where you need to memorize a list of exact phrases to be able to use them reliably. If you want to go to an app, for instance, you need to start by saying “Xbox go to.” But if you want to go to Bing, that structure doesn’t work. The correct command is “Xbox Bing,” because Microsoft expects you to unquestionably understand and accept that “Bing” should be a verb. If “Xbox on” turns on the console, why doesn’t “Xbox off” turn it off? Because “Xbox turn off” is the proper command, and you’ll need to memorize it. If you’re a Redbox Instant subscriber, get used to calling it “Redbox Instant by Verizon,” because the Kinect won’t accept anything less. You can’t say “Xbox play Forza,” you have to say “play Forza Motorsport 5.” There are dozens more examples like these.

And this:

More worrying is the fact that even if you utter the proper command at a reasonable volume, the Kinect might not recognize it. I repeatedly recalibrated the Kinect for my room’s audio profile, tried moving it to a new position, and tried changing my volume and tone, but voice commands were hit and miss no matter what I did. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes a screaming child brings up the Settings menu for no reason in the middle of a game. Yelling doesn’t help; nor does whispering or speaking slowly. It just feels purely random, hit and miss with no rhyme or reason. Kinect for the Xbox 360 wasn’t remotely as powerful as the new Kinect, but at least it worked reliably. Until or unless Microsoft makes the Xbox One as reliable, expect to scream at your console — and to get no response part of the time.

And this:

There is another way to use Kinect, too: with your hands. Simply raise a hand up to the screen, hover over any tile, and push forward to select an app. Close your fist to grab the screen, and you can drag it to scroll much the same way you’d swipe across a touchscreen. In Internet Explorer, you can even “punch” the screen with your fist or pull it away to zoom. Unfortunately, it’s even more finicky than the voice commands: sometimes I couldn’t get it to recognize my hands, and often I selected something I didn’t mean to.

And, one of my favorites:

Microsoft spent $100 million developing a new controller for the Xbox One and ended up with something almost exactly like the gamepad that came with the Xbox 360 eight years ago. It’s practically the same exact size in every single direction, only a half-ounce heavier, and all the buttons are in the exact same places. Even the analog sticks are the same distance from the ground.

I’m sorry, but this thing just sounds like an expensive turd. One of the issues above would annoy me beyond believe. Two of them would cause me to return the system. All of them would probably cause me to set the thing on fire.

How do these things pass any QA system — let alone one of a multi-billion dollar company? It’s not like Microsoft is new to the game at this point.

I continue to be very bearish on these next-generation consoles. They sound like mediocre upgrades full of new headaches at best and pieces of shit at worst. In years and decades past you could maybe get away with a lot of these mistakes, but the world has changed. 

Tom Warren for The Verge:

The functionality will work by taking a cable box signal and passing it through to the Xbox via HDMI, allowing Microsoft’s console to overlay a UI and features on top of an existing TV channel or set-top box. We’re told that this is a key part of the next-generation Xbox and that it will go a step further than Google’s TV implementation thanks to Microsoft’s partnerships with content providers. Extended support for various cable services will be rolled out gradually, but the basic functionality will be available at launch.

While Google TV obviously went nowhere, I view this as a smart play by Microsoft. The content partnerships are key. Let’s hope they can get all of them in place.

On the other hand:

Coupled with this TV functionality, Microsoft’s next-generation Kinect sensor will also play a role in the company’s TV focus. The Verge has learned that the next Kinect will detect multiple people simultaneously, including the ability to detect eye movement to pause content when a viewer turns their head away from a TV. 

I really don’t understand this functionality. It sounds like a stupid novelty in the new Samsung Galaxy phone, and I think it’s worse here. Given how many people now “watch” TV with a second screen, is it going to pause every three seconds?

For $99 you’ll get an Xbox 360 plus the Kinect and an Xbox Live Gold account provided you pay $15 a month for the next two years, as Tom Warren scoops for The Verge.

This seems like a pretty smart move by Microsoft — even though basic math shows that the current full-price Xbox 360 + Xbox Live subscription is a better deal. People are going to look at this and think: “Oh! $99 Xbox 360 plus Kinect! In!”

It’s the phone carrier subsidy model. 

Too bad it’s only in Microsoft Stores. Or maybe that’s part of the point too?