Kinect And Your Kids: What Works, What Won't

When I first unpacked the Kinect, the new controller-free motion-capture system for Xbox 360, I thought how awesome it would be to play with my daughter. She's 2 1/2 (going on 14).

So I figured Kinect Sports' rudimentary bowling and ball kicking would be easy. And it was, when it worked. The sad fact was that though my kid was definitely ready for Kinect, Kinect wasn't ready for her.

When I spoke to Josh Hutto, on the Xbox Kinect team, he explained that there is a recommended height minimum of 40 inches, corresponding roughly to kids 4 and a half years old and up.

"The [Kinect] camera needs a field of view, side to side and up and down," Hutto told me. "It's trying to get as many people into that cone as possible. Getting a small person and a tall person in the same space is a technical challenge."

While my kid is probably going to have to sit out a couple of years of Kinecting, there are some good tips for anyone with small kids closer to the 40-inch mark who do want to give it a try.

For starters, you should mount the Kinect camera box above your TV, as high as 6 feet if possible. Since game play has to happen 6 to 8 feet from the camera, raising it up closes the distance required between the TV and the players. At the same time, it makes it easier for the camera to track people of different heights, since it is looking down, and not across.

This is also a good tip for people who find their quarters a little too cramped for Kinect. Even an average sized living room like mine could benefit from the tighter camera space, and for city dwellers, it's a must.

"My sister lives in an apartment in Manhattan," said Hutto. "I told her the same thing. If you get the camera height up to 6 feet, it's going to make the play space as small as possible."

As you might have guessed, there's already a bustling business in Kinect mounts. With Microsoft's blessing, a company called Performance Designed Products (or just PDP) is selling a Kinect wall mount for $15, a floor stand on a tripod for $30, and a special flat-panel TV clamp for $40.

(PDP is also selling a 10-foot-long "officially licensed" USB cable for $50, which sounds awfully steep. If you do need a USB extender, try this one at Monoprice for $1.43 first.)

A colleague of mine decided to skip the fancy rigging and instead screwed an L-shaped bracket to the wall, attaching the Kinect to it with doublesided tape, and securing the cable to prevent accidental yanking. It probably cost all of $2, and did the trick.

Once you've got the Kinect up in place, run the Kinect Tuner with your kid(s) in the play space, and within that tool, manually adjust the camera to tilt down a bit. Don't just tilt the camera down by hand, because the system will just compensate by angling back up.

Mind you, since you basically tweaked it for the smallest members of the household, you may need to re-tune it when the kids go to bed, and the grown-ups queue up to make fools of themselves.

It's important to demarcate the play area somehow. The best advice I've heard is to set a yoga mat or some other floor mat down in the Kinect sweet spot. Everyone can get carried away playing Kinect, but kids especially get over excited and tend to lunge towards the TV, which not only screws up the tracking, but is a tad bit dangerous too. One dad I talked to set out a line of shoes, telling his son not to cross it.

Hutto had one other tip for kids and Kinect: clear enough play space in front and back, and to each side as well, so that everyone stays safe during playtime.

I don't think anyone assumed Kinect would be injury free, but it was a little surprising to see the accident videos hit YouTube so quickly. Maybe I should be glad my kid can't get involved. Aw, who am I kidding? If she doesn't grow into this thing soon, she's getting stilts for Christmas.

Wilson Rothman is the deputy technology and science editor for MSNBC.com. Catch up with Wilson on Twitter at @wjrothman, just don't ever make fun of his Xbox Live Gamerscore. Only Todd and Winda can do that.