Xbox 180 Part IV: The Kinectening


Here we go again.  Just when you thought the backtracks and reversals were over, Microsoft has another one ready to stun you.  While the Kinect will still come with every Xbox One, you’ll no longer have to worry about it spying on you.  Read on for the details.

First revealed in a Q&A on IGN, and then expanded upon in a NeoGAF thread, Microsoft has changed their policy concerning their Kinect sensor.  At their initial unveiling of the Xbox One back in May, they touted the new Kinect as an integral part of the console.  So integral, in fact, that the Xbox One wouldn’t function without it.  This bothered some gamers since, in essence, Microsoft was installing a high definition camera and microphone in every customer’s living room, and there was no way to turn it off.  Microsoft tried to answer those concerns with a FAQ two weeks later, but that just made the situation worse.

But now it seems that Microsoft has made yet another about-face.  In a Q&A on IGN, Xbox One chief platform architect Marc Whitten had this to say about the Kinect.  I bolded the important part for emphasis.

Xbox One is designed to work with Kinect plugged in. It makes gaming better in many ways – from the ability to say “Xbox On” and get right to your personalized homescreen, to the ability to control your TV through voice, Smartglass and more. Kinect allows you to search for your content, instantly move between games and your personalized dash and more with just your voice. Kinect helps you pick up and play by automatically knowing which controller you have in your hands. No more need to interrupt your friends game or navigate through multiple UI screens to sign in and tell the system which controller you are holding. It will even bind the controller to the console if its currently unbound – no searching for special buttons! Of course – these are just a few of the system wide benefits of having Kinect. Games use Kinect in a variety of amazing ways from adding voice to control your squad mates to adding lean and other simple controls beyond the controller to full immersive gameplay. That said, like online, the console will still function if Kinect isn’t plugged in, although you won’t be able to use any feature or experience that explicitly uses the sensor.

He also gave new details on how “off” you can make the Kinect sensor while it is still plugged into the Xbox One console.

You have the ability to completely turn the sensor off in your settings. When in this mode, the sensor is not collecting any information. Any functionality that relies on voice, video, gesture or more won’t work. We still support using it for IR blasting in this mode. You can turn the sensor back on at any time through settings, and if you enter into a required Kinect experience (like Kinect Sports Rivals for instance), you’ll get a message asking if you want to turn the sensor back on in order to continue.

For those with privacy concerns, this sounds a whole heck of a lot better than Microsoft’s previous assurances that “it’s only listening for certain words.”  It also predictably generated a lot of discussion over on NeoGAF.  Enough so that another high level Microsoft exec, lead planner for Xbox One, Xbox 360 and Kinect Albert Penello dropped in and expanded on what Marc had already announced.

We still believe in Kinect. We aren’t interested in splitting the development base. The more demos I’ve seen, the more I’ve used it – the more impressed I am. The team feels strongly about Kinect, and I hope we’re able to prove that when you use it.

We also have a ton of privacy settings to allow people to turn off the camera, or microphones, or put it in a state just for “Xbox On” and IR blasting – there will be a lot of user control for that.

The thing we all understood, and hence this change, is that there are some scenarios where people just may not be comfortable. We wanted people to be 100% comfortable, so we allow the sensor to be unplugged. And clearly the “it dropped” scenario is possible.

The most obvious thing is watching a DVD/BD, or streaming a movie, or HDMI pass-through, your experience isn’t impacted (except you miss voice and IR blasting)

There is no “gotcha”, but obviously, if there is a game that REQUIRES Kinect (like Rivals), or something where Kinect IS the experience (like Skype), those won’t work.

That said, for people who have privacy concerns there are user control settings, which we believe are great.

Soooo… wow.  First came the 180 on used games and online connections.  Then there were the backflips over indie publishing and headsets.  Now the Kinect is no longer required, although we’ll all still have to pay for one….

Or will we?  Stay tuned!

About the Author: (@Joe_of_the_Dead) Lead Editor, Writer

Joe was born in a time of war. A console war. Two electronic titans were locked in a heated battle for the living rooms of America. Which titans, you ask? Well, the Fairchild Channel F and the Atari 2600 of course. You see, Joe is old. So many of his favorite games tend to be on the older side as well. But that hasn’t stopped him from developing unhealthy obsessions with such modern franchises as Halo and Mass Effect. Just don’t tell him how long it’s been since the original Metroid was released. His aging heart can’t take the shock.

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