Christmas is coming up and there is a lot of hype about how cool the new Xbox 360 Kinect device is. But before you ruin out and buy one for your kids, get the facts. For those of you who don't know what this "add on" for the Xbox is, I'll explain.
The Nintendo Wii revolutionized home video gaming by introducing motion/position based controllers. Instead of moving a joystick and pressing buttons, you simply waved around a small remote and the system would pick up your movements and translate them into actions within the video game. Since Nintendo pioneered this wildly popular technology, other game system manufacturers have been scrambling to catch up. Sony just came out with their "Move" device for PlayStation that copies the Wii functionality and now Microsoft upped the ante with Kinect. Kinect provides Xbox users with motion-based gaming functionality like the Wii and PlayStation devices but it does so in a very different way. Instead of a system that monitors the motion of a small hand-held remote, the Kinect watches YOU and monitors your movement. The Kinect is an advanced camera device that sees in 3D, binocular vision like you and I do, and also tracks you via infrared and listens to you with a super-sensitive microphone. Technologically it is very cool and it will definitely take video gaming to new levels, but at it's core, this device is a webcam.
So what's the big deal about hooking a webcam up to an Xbox? The truth is that you've always been able to hook webcams up to the Xbox. In the past, a webcam was just an extra - you didn't really need it to play any games. A few gamers hooked them up and used them but most people didn't. The Kinect is going to come with a whole new generation of super cool games that every kid will want. Among it's other features, the Kinect IS a webcam...and it's always on as long as the Xbox is on. In the past, your children could chat with or even talk to complete strangers while gaming on the Xbox. Now they can video chat with complete strangers as well. Kinect comes with Skype software that gets installed when you hook up the device. So it's not only a webcam to use while gaming, it's a webcam they can use whenever they want. Skype can be dangerous for kids (read my article from Sept. 17 here) and is definitely something that parents need to monitor and control.
I honestly don't know as much about Kinect as I'd like to. I don't own an Xbox and therefore can't test it thoroughly. My hope is that Microsoft has planned ahead for this potential security and privacy risk for kids and have good parental control features built in. Xbox's parental controls are ok though not great. I've read numerous articles on how cool the Kinect is and how high the quality of the webcam is, but I haven't seen anything about parental controls. If anyone has any info on this, I'd be very interested to see it.
I am certainly not saying to avoid buying this product. On the contrary, I think it could be a very cool, fun thing for kids. Anything that gets kids moving is a good thing right? What I am saying is what I always say to parents: don't just give this to your kids and walk away. This is technology...potentially dangerous technology...that you need to monitor and control. If you want to provide this to your children, it's your responsibility to learn about it so they can operate it safely.
Here is a link to Microsoft's Kinect website: http://www.xbox.com/en-US/kinect. They do mention "advanced parental controls" but they don't really describe them. Hopefully that's forthcoming. Here is also a summary description of the Kinect device from Gizmodo's website: http://gizmodo.com/5563047/what-is-xbox-360-kinect.