Dabe Alan

The Kinect is mandatory, and can’t be turned off: Welcome your new motion sensing, Xbox One overlord

The Kinect is mandatory, and can’t be turned off: Welcome your new motion sensing, Xbox One overlord

The most frustrating things about the press event for the Xbox One were Microsoft’s inability to accurately answer even basic information about its own hardware and services, and the presentation of conflicting information. There were many times during a quiet moment when I shared notes with other writers, and found we had been told contradictory details about the system.

Take, for instance, the new and improved Kinect hardware. I was given a demonstration of its power and accuracy, and the new technology is certainly impressive, but I had a simple question: Would the system be able to operate without the Kinect hooked up? In other words, if I wanted to use the system with only a controller and didn’t connect the motion sensing device at all, would the Xbox One still work?

“We’ve today announced that we’re selling them together. I’m not sure if we’re sharing details about what happens when you unplug them,” Scott Evans, Microsoft's Kinect program manager told the Report.

First, that’s the worst kind of PR answer. The sane response is that yes, the system should be able to operate fine without the Kinect attached. But of course this is Microsoft, and no one can seem to figure out what’s going on with the features of the system. Everyone is being given different answers.

I told him I was a little freaked out that he couldn’t answer such a simple question.

“I think it’s a policy decision, we’re not going to discuss it,” he replied. I pressed him: Could he go out on a limb and say that the system will turn on without the Kinect plugged in? “I don’t know what the policy is going to be yet, so I’m not commenting.”

It’s not a worthless question. When moving the console from room to room, I don’t want to worry about the Kinect, and the whole thing gives me the heebie jeebies. “We have a combination of processing in the sensor, and the console. Even when the console is turned off, the sensor can listen for ‘Xbox On’ and wake up the console,” Evans said. I’m not sure I like the idea of a piece of hardware that’s hooked up in my living room listening to me on an ongoing basis. 

It turns out that other sources in Microsoft are stating that the Kinect does have to be connected for the system to function. Look at this article, featuring a quote from Xbox's UK marketing director Harvey Eagle.

“Kinect does require to be connected to Xbox One in all cases, yes,” he said. Asked whether the Xbox One will accommodate people who perhaps play in their bedroom rather than their living room, Eagle replied: “Yes, absolutely. We use the living room almost as a moniker - that's where we assume the best screen is in the house. But if you like to play in any other room in the house, the Xbox One will deliver the same quality of experience whatever the environment.”

So it sounds like the Kinect is mandatory. You can’t unplug it, you can’t turn it off, and you won’t be able to buy an Xbox One without the added cost of the motion sensing peripheral. It's always on, at least on some level. Listening to you. Waiting to be told to wake up.

So what happens if the Kinect breaks, is the entire system now useless? It's one thing to create a production that's so useful and compelling that we want to use it, but quite another to say you can't interact with the system at all unless the peripheral is connected. Microsoft wants to control how you use your system, and this is just another step toward that goal. 

If you didn't like the Kinect before, too bad. You don't have a choice.