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What’s New with Xbox Kinect?

Although the original version of Microsoft’s Kinect worked really well, the new version that is included with Xbox One is even better. Like its predecessor, the Kinect sensor supports using voice and gesture-based navigation and gameplay. However, you can also use the Kinect sensor as an authentication mechanism. This article explains the basics of using the new Kinect device.
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Xbox Kinect was probably the one thing that really set Xbox 360 apart from other gaming consoles. With the release of Xbox One, Microsoft has completely redesigned Kinect. This article highlights what’s new with Kinect and how to get the most out of it.

Discovering Changes

The new second generation Kinect looks a lot different from the first generation device and it feels quite a bit heavier. The first generation Kinect had two separate cameras. Microsoft has designed the new Kinect with only a single camera. The new camera supports 1080p resolution, and it includes an infrared sensor that allows the camera to work in low-light environments. According to some sources, the camera’s resolution is good enough that it is theoretically capable of tracking finger movements.

Enabling Kinect

Kinect is enabled right out of the box, but you can manually turn it on and off. To do so, go to the Xbox Home screen and then click Settings. Next, click Kinect. The resulting screen allows you to turn Kinect on or off. There is also an option that you can use to control whether or not the Kinect microphone should be used for chat.

Using Kinect Gestures

Once enabled, you can use Kinect to navigate the Xbox One interface. It is worth noting however, that Microsoft has designed the Kinect interface to be non-intrusive. As such, there is no on-screen indicator that tells you that you can use Kinect. Instead, Kinect watches you at all times (when enabled) and the visual cues show up whenever Kinect sees you make a gesture that it recognizes.

There are six different gestures that you can use for basic navigation. The first gesture takes you to the home screen. For this gesture, simply hold out both of your hands toward the edges of the screen. When you do, Kinect will display two hand icons at the edges of the screen. Once you see these icons, bring your hands together in front of your chest and Kinect takes you to the Xbox home screen.

The second gesture that you can use allows you to make a selection. For instance, you could use this gesture to start a game. To use this gesture, hold up your hand with your palm facing out. Once the hand icon appears on the screen, move your hand so as to navigate the icon to the appropriate tile. Now push your hand outward and then pull back. Doing so is the equivalent to clicking on the selected tile.

There is also a gesture that you can use to open the system menu. To use this gesture, raise your hand with the palm facing outward, just as you did to make a selection. Once the hand icon appears, move your arm forward and hold it in place until a circle timer icon appears. As soon as the timer completes you will be taken to the system menu.

The fourth gesture that you can use allows you to open notifications on screen. For this gesture, you will need to start out by placing both of your hands close together, in front of your chest. Next, make a fist with both hands and then extend your arms outward horizontally toward the edges of the screen.

You can also use the Kinect sensor to scroll through the content on a screen. To do so, hold your hand upward with your palm facing outward. When you see the hand indicator on the screen, move your hand to the area that you want to control and then close your hand. You can now move your hand up, down, left, or right to scroll the app. You are of course limited to scrolling in the direction supported by the app.

The last navigation gesture that is supported by the Kinect sensor allows you to zoom in and out. To use this gesture, raise your hand and make sure that your palm is facing outward. When you see the hand icon appear, move your hand to the area that you want to zoom and close your hand. Pulling your hand towards you will cause the screen to zoom out, while pushing your hand away from you will cause the screen to zoom in.

Employing Voice Navigation

Over the last few years, Microsoft has invested heavily in a speech recognition technology that they refer to as Deep Learning. As such, Microsoft’s latest generation voice recognition engine does a much better job of understanding what is being said than the previous generation did. Microsoft uses voice recognition in a number of different products, and there seems to be a major improvement in accuracy across the board.

To give you a more concrete example, I previously owned a 2011 Ford Fusion with Microsoft Sync. Sync worked OK, but it sometimes had trouble understanding what I was saying. I also had Sync connected to my Windows Phone 7 device, which also used speech recognition. Again, the speech recognition worked OK for basic functions, but it had trouble understanding me if I tried to verbally compose a text message.

Today I have a 2013 Ford C-Max with Sync and I have a Windows Phone 8 device. Both have much better speech recognition capabilities than the previous versions. This same improvement applies to Xbox Kinect. The second generation Kinect seems to do a very good job of recognizing what is being said. The speech recognition is so accurate in fact, that navigating the Xbox One console by voice has actually become practical.

Kinect supports numerous voice commands. All of the basic navigation commands are available on the Xbox website. Microsoft also offers a handy speech tutorial app that you can download and install. Some of the more useful commands include:

  • “Xbox, Go Home”
  • “Xbox, On”
  • “Xbox, Turn Off”
  • “Xbox, Cancel”
  • “Xbox, Sign In” (or Xbox, sign in as <your name>)
  • “Xbox, Settings”

Using In-Game Controls

Many Xbox One games offer voice controls. These controls differ from one game to the next, so you will need to consult each game’s documentation in order to determine which controls are available. It is also worth noting that Xbox Smart Glass is really good about showing the voice controls for the game that is currently being played.

Understanding Kinect-Based Sign In

Probably the coolest thing that the Kinect sensor is able to do is to sign you in automatically. After you login to Xbox for the first time, you will be prompted to either sign in with Kinect or sign in manually. If you choose to sign in with Kinect, then Xbox will record your image so it can use things like body shape and facial features to identify you. This makes it possible for Xbox to log you in based solely on your appearance.

Even though Xbox prompts you to choose a login method as a part of the initial set up after your first login, you can go back and make a change later. To do so, go to the Home screen and click Settings. Next, click Sign in, Security & Passkey. Now, go to the Sign in & Security column and select Kinect Sign In.


The newly designed Kinect seems to work really well. As of the writing of this article, there aren’t any games that support Kinect gestures, but the in-game audio controls seem to be spot on. Navigation gestures take a little bit of getting used to, but also work well.

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