Kinect Controls Work Great... in a BubbleS

The idea of controlling your console with gestures in a neat concept, but it also comes with a slew of technical challenges.

At the top of the list of issues that Microsoft's Kinect controller for the Xbox 360 faces is the problem of interference from people not in the virtual driver's seat of the console.

What happens when you're trying to control the Xbox 360 with gestures and someone walks in front of you or behind you? Right now? Things go haywire, but the person demonstrating the technology to me at last week's GamesCom said that they are still tweaking the interface.

Here's how it's supposed to work:

To get the console's attention you hold your hand up in front of you until a circular bar fills, which cedes control of the console's dashboard to your gestures. Then you can swipe your hand back and forth to slip through the options of the console and select items by holding your hand over your choice.

I also tried out controlling a movie with Kinect, slipping back and forth through the film in fast forward or rewind effortlessly.

But that's how it works without interference.

Near the tail end of my demonstration, as I was sitting on a couch slipping through the dashboard, the controls suddenly went crazy. The person showing me the console was confused initially, thinking that I was deliberately ignoring his suggestions on how to control things. The feint light marking where my hand was shot up and down on the screen wildly, jerking to the left and right.

The guy told me to hold my hand still, staring at the screen in front of me. "I am," I said. He looked over at me and scowled, starting to scan the audience behind me on the balcony above and the floor. Looking, I suspected, for someone in the flow of press who was deliberately messing with the demo. Then his face relaxed, as realization dawned on him.

Walking over to a man standing directly behind me with a camera, shooting the scene opposite the couch, the presenter asked him to step away from the couch. Apparently the small metal arm sticking out from the tripod mount for his camera had captured the attention of Kinect and was in full control of the demonstration.

That's a very bad sign, especially with Kinect due out in about three months. The fact that he couldn't tell me what Microsoft would be doing to resolve the issue was an even worse sign.

By far the most concerning thing, though, was how Microsoft was demonstrating the many Kinect games on the crowded GamesCom show floor. Where Sony and Nintendo were able to manage to conduct demonstrations of the Wii and Move motion gaming with nothing more than a rope to keep people back, Microsoft constructed full pods for people to go into and play the game, a thick layer of transparent plastic between them and any external movement.