Kinect is many things. It's an advanced motion sensor, a revolutionary add-on, and Microsoft's best hope of socking it to Sony and Nintendo. Most of all, however, it's a reinvention. The clues were already there in last week's autumn dashboard update with its cheerful, family-friendly quick start guide, but what strikes you most about Kinect is that it's an all-out attempt to transform the Xbox 360 from a hardcore gamer's console into what's effectively the logical next step forward from the Wii. If you don't look at Kinect in this spirit - if you're going to get antsy about response times, accuracy or how in hell you're going to play an FPS on the thing, then you're missing the point. Kinect wasn't made for you.
Take it for what it is, however, and – with some pretty hefty caveats - Kinect is an incredible piece of tech.
Setup is a lot slicker and more trouble-free than you might expect. The sensor bar, which sits on it's own, integral motorised stand, is placed above or below your TV. It plugs into your Xbox 360 via a USB cable, while drawing power from a separate wall-wart PSU (though owners of the latest slimline models will find that the USB cable provides enough power on its own). Hook it up, switch your Xbox 360 on, and the console will download a new update. Once that's installed, the system runs you through a series of basic calibration tests to work out the noise levels and rough dimensions of the space you're playing in. There's not much more to it than that.
Well, there is a bit more. To get some of the more advanced features working properly, like automatic face-recognition sign-in, each player needs to go through a quick scan followed by a brief series of additional tests which, actually, are reasonably good fun. Parents of small children might note that they'll struggle to complete these, both for technical reasons (Kinect seems to struggle with small dimensions) and practical (try getting a four-year-old to stand still for a few seconds, then move from spot to spot and strike a specific pose). Going through this process, however, seems to help tune the system for each player, and it's something we'd recommend for any older child or adult.
Otherwise, the magic of Kinect is that, most of the time, it just works. The sensor angles and readjusts itself, so there's no need to worry about that, and while you might experience minor issues with lighting, Kinect seems more forgiving on this count than PlayStation Move. The worst we've had is poor exposure in a photo in a game, and by retuning Kinect to work in different conditions you can help the hard-working sensor do its job.