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Kinect's launch day bumps and triumphs

CNET reviews the big launch day for Kinect, Microsoft's motion-control camera for the Xbox 360 and a new platform for developers to build on.

Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Note: This story was updated on Friday 11/5 with additional information added to the facial recognition feature item, as well as a clarification to the use of the Kinect unit with the older and newer Xbox 360 hardware configurations.

Microsoft's Kinect motion-camera accessory for the Xbox 360 has been out less than a day here in the U.S., and reports both good and bad continue to trickle in.

If you want to know what CNET thought of it, you can head over to our full review of the device. Below are some things, both positive and negative, that have cropped up in the peripheral's short existence on the market.

The good
1. You can still find one. Online retailers appear to have stock aplenty. In late October, that wasn't the case, with Amazon and Best Buy putting a halt on pre-orders of the peripheral. A look around all the big online retailers today shows it in stock and ready to ship out within 24 hours in most places. That may not be the case as we get closer to the holidays and shortly after the international releases in Europe, Japan, and Australia later this month, but it's certainly off to a better start than the Xbox 360 itself.

2. Initial batch of games is mostly good. While the reviews are still coming in, first-party software titles like Kinectimals, Kinect Sports, and Kinect Adventures are getting generally positive reviews from the gaming press, with one of the standouts being Dance Central. It currently sports a score of 84 on Metacritic. Of course, anyone who knows anything about launch titles will tell you how much things can improve once developers get the hang of new hardware, and learn how to push it.

3. The Kinect appears to be working just fine with projectors. That is, as long as the unit is not in the light--something people had been curious about given that most public demos had been on TV sets.

4. It still plays nice with older camera accessory. There are people who bought Microsoft's previous foray into USB camera accessories--the Xbox Live Vision camera, and the good news is that you can continue to use it, alongside Kinect. In fact, for some games like UNO, you'll need to hang on to it if you want to use the video streaming features, until it is updated to work with Kinect's camera.

The bad
1. Potential facial recognition problems with dark-skinned users. As discovered in testing by CNET's sister site Gamespot, the Kinect unit they had was having trouble identifying two out of three dark-skinned players by their faces. The actual body tracking feature, which lets players control the games with body movements, was said to be working fine. An official response from a Microsoft representative said the unit "will work with people of all shapes and ethnicities at launch."

A similar problem had cropped up quite famously with HP's Media Smart PCs and its facial-tracking software late last year, which HP promptly responded to with promises of a software update.

Update at 4:10 p.m. PT on November 5: Gamespot later went back to retry its tests with a different light situation and clothing, and still ran into isolated problems with just the facial recognition feature. Consumer Reports, on the other hand, did its own round of testing with both a light and a dark-skinned player, and found the unit to pick up on both players equally--that is, as long as there was enough light in the room. "The log-in problem is related to low-level lighting and not directly to players' skin color," Consumer Reports said.

2. Continuing space issues. Kinect's materials put the optimum distance of being away from the sensor at anywhere between 6 and 10 feet. Any closer to that, and the device can have problems figuring out where you are. Another space issue that's cropped up has to do with lights and ceiling fans--two dangling objects that could end up being right where your hands are when you're jumping or reaching towards virtual goals.

Beyond the need for what can be considered a large living room free space, that extra distance means you're going to need a big TV to see what's going on. For a lot of the launch games, the big, avatar driven style shouldn't present too big of an issue, but for future titles that may include small text, this could end up being problematic. Mindful developers are likely to keep this from being too big of a problem.

3. Early adopter power struggles. There are two ways to get a Kinect--either buy the standalone bundle, which is aimed at users who already have an Xbox 360 console, and one of the newer bundles, which includes a new Xbox 360 Slim and a Kinect.

The thing is, the newer version of the console has a special USB port in the back that has enough juice to run your Kinect sans A/C adapter. Users with older consoles need that power adapter, which comes with the standalone bundle. That means if you plan on bringing the Kinect that came with one of the newer system bundles over to a friend's house with an older console that doesn't have the port, you're going to need to purchase that adapter separately, as well as hunt for an open power outlet that will reach to the back of your Kinect when setting it up. Will this end up being a huge problem? Definitely not for the folks who are picking up the standalone bundle.

4. Some not so good software. While Dance Central, and a handful of other first-party Microsoft titles are getting positive reviews, some third-party titles are not. One of those is Sega's Sonic Free Riders, which has players racing and jumping while the Kinect tracks body movements. Early reviews (1, 2, 3) have pegged it as being tough, and in some cases, nearly impossible to control. The same criticism has been bestowed on Ubisoft's Fighters Uncaged, which has gamers kicking and punching at virtual opponents.

There are bound to be more items in both of these categories as people get more time with the initial batch of hardware and software. If you've picked up a unit today, feel free to add any of your own impressions or discoveries in the comments.