It’s not even one day old, but the new Kinect video-gaming system was at the center of a potential controversy.
Gaming review site GameSpot reported that two of its dark-skinned employees had problems getting the facial recognition features of the Kinect to work. According to the report, the system recognized one inconsistently and was never able to fully identify the other despite repeated calibration attempts.
A third dark-skinned employee was recognized on the first try, GameSpot said.
However, Consumer Reports tested the Kinect and blamed poor lighting for the facial recognition failures instead of skin tone.
During the Consumer Reports tests, two players with different skin tones in various light levels tried to sign in. Both players were recognized at normal levels of light for a living room and both were not recognized when the lights were turned lower.
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 was not changed, because the Kinect still allows players to control on-screen avatars after manually logging in.
Cameras and facial-recognition software help Microsoft’s Kinect work with its Xbox console, identifying players automatically without their having to sign in. It also notices when another player joins the action on the fly in a two-player game.
Kinect employs sensors and cameras to record a player’s full-body movements and make them correspond to avatars’ movements in Xbox games.
In the users’ manual included with Kinect, Microsoft suggests ensuring that sunlight isn’t shining directly on the player or the camera.
Sunlight directly on a player’s face could wash out his or her facial features for the camera, while sunlight directly behind a player and on the Kinect camera could create a shadow effect on the face.
“Kinect works great with all skin tones,” said the statement from a Microsoft spokesperson. “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.”
Kinect owners who are having calibration or recognition problems can call 1-800-4MY-XBOX (1-800-469-9269).
Microsoft estimates the company will sell 5 million Kinect units by year’s end. With that sample size, we’ll know soon how widespread the alleged problem may be, and whether the proposed solutions work for everyone.