I got back to Scotland from a holiday in California visiting msinvisfem last week. I saw a lot of interesting stuff, so there’s a lot to write about, but based on previous experience – and about 12GB of photos and videos to sort through – it may be a while before it hits the blog here.
In the meantime there’s one thing it’s quite easy to write about quickly, so I’ll start with my trip to one of the first Microsoft Stores, at Mission Viejo. There are currently only four physical Microsoft Stores, all in the States, so while the chances of me buying something off the shelf were pretty slim, it was an interesting opportunity to visit and see what there was to see.
The store bears a distinct resemblance to an Apple Store, though a bit more warm and welcoming with varnished wood in place of the sterile lab look. The staff seemed interested and helpful, although being British and just there for a look, I was mostly more keen to dodge them than interact. The hardware was nice to look at, but difficult to arouse much enthusiasm for when I’m not in the market at the moment, either personally or at work, having just got a touchscreen laptop at the start of the summer.
There was one young guy I spent some time chatting to though, who was demoing something I was surprised and pleased to see: Kinect for Xbox 360. If you haven’t hear about it already, it’s due out in a couple of months and it’s a way to interact with the Xbox 360 without a hand-held controller. That’s a big deal for the Xbox, which will help it catch up with other less sedentary game machines such as the Wii, but it’s also a big deal full stop if it’s actually good; bringing sophisticated real-time computer vision into peoples’ homes (also voice control and facial recognition, though those have appeared in home devices such as phones and cameras before). That’s impressive, and – assuming it’s successful – not so much catching up as leap-frogging other consoles.
It’s an impressive technical achievement, but is it really much different in terms of play from a hand-held controller? I’m not really in a position to say definitively, but the difference is that it’s (quote) “full body play” (promotional video). You only need one controller sat in front of the TV screen, and it will track not just the position of your hands or your feet, but can follow facial expressions too. Judging by the promotional video, it can handle two players at once. I don’t know whether more are possible.
I had a quick shot at a ten-pin bowling game:
First of all, you get the machine to recognise you by positioning yourself on a red spot that appears on the “floor” on the TV screen. I had to shuffle backwards slightly to get “myself” on the spot. Once that was done, all I had to do was reach out my arm to the right to pick up a ball; and do what came naturally to bowl it.
I bowled six frames, and had no difficulty picking it up. In fact, in common with my similarly limited experience of bowling with the Wii, it might be a bit too easy; within that six frames I managed to bowl a turkey, which I’ve never heard of before and certainly never achieved in real life. However, it seems there may be room for greater finesse; the demo guy said that once you’ve practiced a bit with it you can apply spin – and all without a hand-held controller!
Six frames of bowling isn’t enough to give a comprehensive overview of Kinect, but it was fun and natural, and I’m quite excited about this development – both as an Xbox peripheral and as a significant achievement for applied computing in the home.