Hype alert! The era of controller-free gaming is nearly upon us. Next week, Microsoft will finally unleash Kinect, the motion sensor that transforms the Xbox 360 console from a hardcore games machine into a next-generation Wii rival. This, of course, comes only two short months after Sony launched Move, its own motion control system for PlayStation 3.
While we’ve yet to receive our final Kinect review kit, we had time at a recent Microsoft event to see how Kinect fits into the Xbox 360 platform, and get a feel for how well the early games will work. We won’t have a more detailed review and verdict until we have it up and running in a real living room, but we have enough now to start making some meaningful comparisons between the two new motion control systems, and consider how the next stage in the console wars might play out.
We won’t go into too much detail right now, but here are the basics: Kinect’s hardware base is a compact sensor bar, which uses a combination of an RGB camera with an infrared depth sensor, controlled by a whole lot of proprietary software, to track up to 48 parts of the human body. The sensor bar is mounted on a motorised stand, which allows it to move inconspicuously to keep the player or players in the frame. Meanwhile, a multi-microphone array allows Kinect software to operate by voice control as well, using software derived from Microsoft’s own speech recognition projects.
Move is a little more ad-hoc. The actual Move controller incorporates a three-axis accelerometer, inertial sensors and an angle rate sensor to determine the position, rotational angle and velocity of the controller, but also features a glowing bulb on the tip of the controller, which can be tracked by the PlayStation Eye camera. This allows Move to get an accurate map of the position of the controller within a 3D space. It’s arguably a less sophisticated approach than Kinect, but - as anyone who has used Move can tell you - it enables an incredible level of accuracy and responsiveness.
Kinect will sell on its own for £130 including a game, Kinect Adventures, or with the new design Xbox 360 console with 4GB of onboard flash memory for £250. Be aware, however, that there will be shortages around launch, and retailers are already looking set to bundle Kinect with software in more expensive premium packages, as they have done in the past with Wii.
PlayStation Move sells in a number of configurations. £50 buys you the starter pack, with the PlayStation Eye camera, one Move controller and a disc of game demos. After that, it’s £40 for each additional Move controller, plus £20 for the navigation controller, which sports an analogue pad and works like the Wii’s ‘nunchuk’.
You don’t need the navigation controller for most games (and even those that require it will actually work with a standard Dual Shock 3 controller), so a basic setup for two players to enjoy Move will set you back £90. However, some games benefit from each player being able to use two Move controllers, which takes the price up to £170. In short, while Move has a cheaper entry-level price tag, neither system can be described as the value-oriented choice.