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Five ways to set up and optimize the Leap Motion Controller

Before you draw midair masterpieces, or flick bricks with your finger, find out which settings and best-practices optimize the Leap Motion Controller for speed, accuracy, and ergonomics.

Now playing: Watch this: Optimize a Leap Motion Controller

For most computer tasks, nothing beats the good ol' keyboard and mouse. But the Leap Motion Controller is here, and it's challenging the way we think about navigating our computers.

If you're one of the early adopters looking for a hint of "Minority Report" in your life, the Leap Motion is already quick to impress (or at least entertain). With it, you can play games, draw, and even perform unexpected tasks -- like unlocking your PC -- without ever touching the mouse. Sounds awesome, but the device does have some quirks that could cause some frustration as you get started.

As your work the Leap into your life, use these tips to optimize performance and make the experience as painless as possible.

1. Placement
According to the developers at Leap Motion, you can really put the controller wherever you want -- right, left, in front of your keyboard, on your head, in your lap. The point is, don't stress about picking just one spot; the Controller quickly adapts to changes in placement.

In testing, it became clear that the most ergonomic setup places the Controller in front of the keyboard, center to the screen. Then, when it's not in use, place it between the keyboard and monitor (or off to the side of a laptop). It's unlikely you'll actively use the Leap Motion concurrently with your keyboard and mouse, so keep it front and center when you're using an app.

The consequences of a faraway Controller? Arm fatigue. Seriously. Reach too far and you'll wish you spent more time strength training before going touch-free.

2. Keep it smudge-free
Underneath the Leap Motion Controller's dark plate of glass lie two cameras and an infrared sensor. Dust, smudges, and dirt will hinder tracking, especially during activities that call for precision.

To help the Leap Motion's sensors out, keep it as clean and smudge-free as possible. If there's a big, glaring smudge, it will let you know with a notification in the taskbar (or menu bar on a Mac). But don't wait for a warning to clean. Your unit came with a microfiber cloth, so use that to wipe the glass every so often.

3. Fine-tune gesture tracking
While the Leap's engineers insist that most folks need not adjust any settings, we tinkerers tend to disagree. Whether you're a prosumer using apps that call for precision, or an early adopter who wants to personalize the Controller, there are a couple useful settings worth toying with.

From the taskbar in Windows or the menu bar on a Mac, open the Leap Motion Controller menu and head to Settings.

In the first tab, over on the right, take a look at the Interaction Height setting. You'll see that the height is set to 20 centimeters, placing the 8-cubic-foot gesture zone 20 centimeters from the top surface of the device. That's a good default, but if you're getting arm fatigue or are unusually tall, you might want to lower or raise that zone, respectively. Use the slider to test different options.

Sharon Vaknin/CNET

There's also an Automatic Interaction Setting, which prompts the Leap Motion Controller to constantly move the zone based on your movements. It sounds good in theory, but in testing, the setting wasn't very reliable. Stick with a static height instead.

In the tracking tab, take a look at Tracking Priority. By default, it's set to Balanced, giving speed and precision equal attention. In most use cases, that is the perfect setting; however, if you're an artist looking for precision, choose the Precision setting. Or, if you're playing a game that calls for speed, give the Speed setting a try.

Just realize that if you prioritize one tracking option, the other will be slightly diminished. On more-powerful systems, this is less apparent, but expect some latency on the other element either way. Check out the numbers at the bottom to see how changing these settings affects performance.

Screenshot by Sharon Vaknin/CNET

4. Recalibrating the Leap Motion Controller
Drop, shake, or even dent your Leap Motion Controller and the innerparts will get upset. In the unfortunate event that these things happen, the Controller will likely ask you to calibrate your unit.

But, tinkerers: you need not wait for the Leap Motion to prompt you to do so. If you've move the unit around a lot, or notice that tracking is off-kilter, take a few seconds to recalibrate.

To do so, head to the Settings panel > Troubleshooting > Recalibrate device.

This is where things get weird. Grab your device, and with the glass side facing the computer screen about 1 or 2 inches away, slowly tilt it in various directions to paint the screen green, until you get a "score" of 80. Recalibration is easiest on glossy screens, while the process is a little lengthier on matte screens.

Why? In the recalibration process, the software tracks the Controller's infrared sensor bouncing off the screen and back onto the device. (Neat, right?)

5. Consider your specs
If you've experimented with all these optimization options and are still underwhelmed with the Leap Motion's performance, there's a good chance your computer's to blame. Though the minimum requirements aren't demanding, the controller is designed to adapt to various systems. So its performance is correlated with the system it's running on.

Sure, it'll function on a PC packing 2GB RAM and a Core i3 processor, but give it 4GB RAM and a Core i7, and you'll see a drastic improvement in speed and accuracy.

For people who want more information about how the Leap Motion Controller processes data (or rather, doesn't process data), check out this forum discussion.