Five ways Kinect 2 must improve on the original
The almost universal critical panning of Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor was a nail in the coffin for new Kinect experiences. Microsoft's magic eyeball of potential has more or less been boiled down to a Dance Central peripheral. Yes, there are a few gems like Child of Eden and The Gunstringer, but Harmonix seems to be the only developer (including Microsoft) who has crafted a truly lasting classic using the Kinect. If there is any hope for controller-free gaming beyond dancing games, it's going to take a lot of improvements. Here are five ways the Kinect 2 will have to improve on the original.
1) Distance, Space issues
No matter how reliable the Kinect becomes in ideal circumstances, there is one ultimate flaw in the peripheral: the vast majority of people are locked out of using the Kinect due to the 6-8 foot distance requirement. In moving my Kinect from my room to the living room and transporting it to friends' houses, I've found this issue causes the most headaches.
I have a pretty large living room, but it's a bit narrow between the TV and the couch. While there's enough space to have a half dozen people dancing in front of the TV, the Kinect's distance requirements force two players to rub the back of their knees against the couch to have any success. I arranged my bedroom with this space requirement in mind, but I'm so far away from the TV screen that I'm straining my eyes while playing any Kinect games.
Rumored mock-ups of the next Kinect have shown two eyes, separated by several feet, located on either side of a TV. Perhaps this is how Microsoft will make a Kinect that can see an entire living room. Either way, I don't really care how they do it, but if they expect anyone to buy the next one, they'll need to drastically improve the space requirement.
2) Voice recognition
"Xbox. Xbooox. Ecks. Bawks...ugh. No! Gah! Xbox! Apps. Aaaaaaapps. Netflix. Neeeetfliiix..."
This string of nonsense followed by a string of expletives is an almost daily ritual for me. Despite how poorly it functions, controlling the Xbox Dashboard and Netflix through voice commands feels futuristic and awesome. I also like eating dinner while watching episodes of Louie, so it's a great way to keep my greasy mitts away from the controller.
It has to work better though. I've already discussed how embarrassing yelling at your TV can be, and the only thing more embarrassing is having to repeat yourself to a video game peripheral. When it works it's amazing, but sometimes it almost seems like the Kinect isn't in the mood to listen. "Xbox...Xbox...XBOX!!!" Every time I repeat myself I die a little inside.
Luckily voice recognition technology is a new frontier just about everywhere. Soon you'll have a voice-activated microwave, so it only makes sense that this would be the easiest feature to improve with Kinect 2.
3) Camera Resolution
If you've ever had the Kinect spit what it's seeing back at you, you probably aren't surprised that the technology can suck sometimes. Still, the technology is obviously a lot more complicated than that, and I'm harping on the camera resolution for a different reason.
Games like Happy Action Theater put you and your living room into the experience in really fun, creative ways. However, the fuzzy image it spits back really ruins what could be a super immersive experience. After all, the Xbox can run at 1080p, so the camera image should be 1080p too.
When the Kinect was first introduced (Project Natal, remember?), Microsoft showed users scanning in images and pasting them onto the bottom of skateboards. But since the Kinect takes pictures with the equivalent of a webcam dunked in grape jelly, that feature never really took off. Kinect 2 could have a whole new suite of possibilities and practical uses if Microsoft simply ponies up for a sharper camera.