Get ready for the gaming revolution

YOUR City A.M. gadgets correspondent had a sneak preview of Xbox's brand new Kinect sensor last week. The sensor, which will be on sale in November in time for Christmas, is an accessory to the new Xbox 360 that lets you play games just by moving your body – without a controller. As its makers this week headed off to the world’s biggest games conference in Cologne, Kinect was already generating a buzz in gaming circles. And its arrival on the shelf will be another step towards a revolution in choice in the gaming industry.

The device sits on top of the Xbox with three cameras pointing into your living room. Two of the cameras detect your body and movements, while the third snaps embarrassing pictures of you as you play, which can then be uploaded onto Facebook. Kinect is impressively sensitive and will automatically flick between one and two players as you step in and out of its line of sight. Your avatar follows your movements like a puppet – with a slight delay – and although the sensor cannot detect precise details like finger movements, it is refreshing to step freely into a game without mastering complex configurations of buttons or control movements.

Luke Albiges of Games TM magazine says that this feeling of free interaction with the game is part of what gives Kinect an appeal that, like Nintendo’s Wii, can attract players beyond traditional hardcore gamers. “There’s no strings attached, learning buttons, this sort of thing,” he says. “They can retail it to pretty much anyone, even people you wouldn’t associate with gaming.”

In other words, with Kinect, Xbox is trying to wrestle some of the casual gaming market away from Nintendo. Nintendo’s Rob Saunders says: “The core idea behind Wii is to appeal across generations from age five to 95. It’s about offering the broadest range of experience possible.” The games set for release with Kinect – which include Kinect Sports and DanceMaster – echo those initially released with the Wii and are a far cry from immersive, first-person shooters like Halo that are conventionally seen as gaming blockbusters. Instead, they are more suited to family play and party entertainment. The question is whether the nation’s 7m Wii-owners will be willing to invest in a brand new console and accessory given their casual gaming interest.

This is a challenge that games companies will have to overcome, however, if they are to succeed in breaking open the market. Sony and Nintendo are likewise trying to expand their reach further, with Sony set to release Playstation Move – a Kinect rival aimed at more hardcore gamers – in September and Nintendo moving into 3D graphics. Dr Richard Wilson, CEO of games trade body TIGA, says that this is just the start of a flowering of different platforms: “You’ll see people playing games on consoles but you’ll also see more games delivered online and on a variety of devices like the iPad and mobile phones,” he says. And because of this widening range of choice, he adds: “We’re going to see a game-ification of society.” He is calling for tax breaks to enable the UK’s £1bn gaming industry to compete in this growing market

But this won’t just apply to games players. Ben Berraondo works at NVIDIA, a company that makes graphics chips, and he says that a lot of the technology developed for games or movies is increasingly being used more broadly. “3D Vision Surround – which involves three monitors daisy-chained together – was predominantly for gaming. Now we’re working with internet companies to integrate 3D into a browsing experience, for example in YouTube, Adobe Flash or live streaming of sports.” And users are becoming more comfortable with these advances as their regular computers and consoles offer more – the Wii, for example, lets you to browse online using its motion-sensitive controller, while Kinect’s voice recognition tool will enable you to stop and start movies just by speaking.

So even if playing with simulated furry animals in Kinectimals or jumping imaginary hurdles in Kinect Sports isn’t your idea of a wild gaming experience, don’t be fooled. Kinect is just the latest development in an industry that is racing to grab more consumers and offer them more ways than ever to immerse themselves in virtual worlds.

GADGETS | REVIEWS

SONY HDR-CX550VE
£1,299 www.johnlewis.com/sony

SONY’S latest handheld camcorder offers users razor-sharp images along with some unusual features that will set video geeks’ hearts racing.

One of its unique selling points compared to its rivals is the ability to record a short piece of video at 200 frames per second (versus the normal 50). This means that if you are trying to capture a snippet of very fast activity, you can generate a slow motion video file of the action that catches it in immense detail. The setting is called “Golf Shot” and it automatically switches the camera into portrait-mode to ensure you can fit in the golfer in question.

And if you are so distracted by this feature that you forget where you are, there is no need to worry. The camcorder’s GPS-tracking mode records the physical location of any shot you take.

Otherwise, it offers users the ability to record in full HD resolution – 1080i – whereas even many of its high-end competitors only get to HD. Its slim design and wide LCD touch-screen make the interface easy and practical. Its only downside – aside from the hefty price tag – is that the manual focus knob is placed a little awkwardly to the front and left of the lens, but one you get used to curling your fingers around the front, it is a pleasure to use.