Microsoft may delay shipping of Kinect due to poor face recognition feature

During the Electronic Entertainment Expo last June, Microsoft delighted gamers by unveiling their new product, Kinect for Xbox 360 or Kinect. It made some news after a misunderstanding with its price which Microsoft immediately smoothen out by listing final price online. But then controversy strikes again for Kinect. Not even a day old, Kinect video-gaming system is facing a problem with its poor facial recognition ability.

According to GameSpot, a gaming review site, Kinect had problem operating when two of the company’s dark-skinned employees tried to get it working via the facial recognition features.  The report said  Kinect was able to recognize one, albeit inconsistently, but was never able to fully identify the other employee despite repeated calibration attempts. Another dark-skinned employee, who tried to get the system work,  was recognized only on the first try, GameSpot said.

A member of the Consumer Reports, however, blamed the poor lighting for the facial recognition failures instead of human skin tone. During the Consumer Reports trial testing, the two employees with different skin tones attempted to sign in under various lighting condition. When under normal levels of lighting, both were able to successfully log in but when the lights were turned lower, both were unsuccessful in their attempt.

A blogger, who did his own testing, also had a similar experience. He wrote:

“While testing the Kinect for a review,  I found it would more easily recognize me when the room was well-lit than if it was darker. Game experience, however, was not changed, because the Kinect still allows players to control on-screen avatars after manually logging in.”

Kinect is a webcam-style motion controller add-on accessory for the Xbox 360 gaming console which allows users to interact with the Xbox 360 without the traditional game controller.  Kinect uses cameras and facial-recognition software, identifying players automatically without their having to sign in. It also employs sensors to record a players gesture, presented objects and images, and spoken commands and make them correspond to avatars’ actions in Xbox games.

Microsoft has issued a statement regarding the technical problem of their new Kinect. “Kinect works great with all skin tones. And just like a camera, optimal lighting is best. Anyone experiencing issues with facial recognition should adjust their lighting settings, as instructed in the Kinect Tuner, ” ” said the statement from a Microsoft spokesperson.

The company has also posted a 1800 number to for Kinect owners to contact in case their system has calibration or recognition problems. They directed owners to call 1-800-4MY-XBOX (1-800-469-9269) for assistance.

Kinect will debut worldwide starting with North America on November 4, 2010. It will be launched in Europe on November 10, 2010 followed by Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore on November 18, 2010, and Japan on November 20, 2010.

Microsoft expects 5 million Kinect units to be sold by year’s end. Generally, Kinect has received positive reviews so far. According to a IGN “Kinect can be a tremendous amount of fun for casual players, and the creative, controller-free concept is undeniably appealing.” It gave the device a 7.5 out of 10 citing that the “$149.99 for a motion-tracking camera add-on may be a tough sell”.

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