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Kinect Fun Labs Hands On

Posted by on June 12, 2011 at 4:55 pm

During this year’s E3, Microsoft unveiled Kinect Fun Labs, a collection of free “gadgets” that show off some of Kinect’s unique functionality, from object scanning to body tracking. As the only FleshEatingZipper staffer with a Kinect, I decided to test these little mini-games out.

When I first launched Kinect Fun Labs, the program failed to initialize and instead dumped me back to the dashboard. I tried restarting, clearing the cache, redownloading and reinstalling the program, but nothing worked.

Eventually, I discovered that I needed to turn speech recognition back on in the Kinect settings and then the program loaded just fine. If you’re having this issue (and several people are), make sure speech recognition is on.

As a quick side note, I turned speech recognition off because it is, frankly, useless. Watching a Netflix movie with Kinect’s speech recognition enabled is a lesson in frustration. Every now and then, Kinect would “hear” something that would cause it to stop the movie. I would then have to resume playback, which would require Netflix to buffer all over again. After this happened several times during the same movie, and recalibrating the speech recognition settings changed nothing, I turned it off and haven’t missed it since.

The first Kinect Fun Labs gadget I tried out was Build A Buddy. The program scans in an object of your choosing and then animates it into a creepy-looking little “buddy” that dances around the screen. According to the Help section, bigger objects are better , tall objects are better than wide objects and you want to avoid trying to scan in anything that’s reflective.

I scanned in a large teddy bear (Kinect takes a picture of the front and back). I had some trouble getting the back to scan in and had to repeat the process several times. You can then assign a personality to your buddy by choosing between several options, such as “bouncy” and “silly” and “cool.” You then add voice cues such as “I am awesome!” and the little dude will repeat these phrases in a squeaky voice while dancing around the screen. I thought the final product looked more than a little disturbing.

Next I tried Googly Eyes, which is basically the same as Build A Buddy, except the object that you scan in animates with a pair of “Googly Eyes” attached to it. The virtual critter also follows your movements rather than jumping around with a personality of its own. You can even record a short animation and upload it to your friends.

You can only scan in objects that are larger than a breadbox. I tried to scan in an Xbox controller and the camera rejected it for being too small. We scanned in a large bag of Doritos to good effect. The most entertaining aspect of Googly Eyes is the surprisingly catchy song that plays in the background.

Bobble Head takes a picture of your head and then animates it into a virtual bobble head. Mine looked nothing like me, but it did look a lot like a Nintendo Mii. And after virtually whacking the head a few times and wondering what else to do, I realized why Microsoft is giving these mini-games away for free. The most entertaining aspect of Bobble Head for me was trying to contort my body “just so” in front of the Kinect camera. I had to get into an awkward squatting position to get my face within the frame. I then had to hold that position for several seconds while the Kinect took the picture, all while my wife was laughing at me.

I found Avatar Me to be the most impressive of the bunch. It does exactly what it says and turns you into an avatar. The camera replicated my daughter’s clothes quite accurately and it even correctly captured the letters in the slogan written on the front of her t-shirt.

Other gadgets such as Sparklers, which will allow you to manipulate a picture of yourself in 3D space, aren’t available for download yet, but Microsoft promises that more gadgets are coming soon. I’m wondering where that painting gadget is that Microsoft demoed at E3 back 2009.

There’s also a big emphasis in Kinect Fun Labs on sharing content. They really want you to send videos of your googly-eyed little buddies to your friends. The Kinect Fun Labs hub includes an easy link to your Friend’s Feeds so you can quickly see what your friends have uploaded.

When you first get a Kinect and turn it on, your immediate inclination is to play around with it to see what it does. Before Kinect Fun Labs came along, there wasn’t really a “play ground” to run Kinect through its paces. You were stuck milling around in the menus or firing up a Kinect-enabled game and doing only what that particular game allowed you to do.

There’s not much to Kinect Fun Labs right now, and my kids got more out of it than I did, but it does fill a void by giving you a few extremely simple but unique ways to goof around with your Kinect. And it’s free, so we can’t really complain about that.

Kinect Fun Labs is available in the Kinect Hub as a 700 MB download.

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