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Consumer Reports debunks the 'racist' Kinect

Consumer Reports News: November 04, 2010 06:05 PM

Is Kinect "Racist"?
Video: Consumer Reports

Shortly after the first Microsoft Kinect for Xbox reviews starting appearing in the wee hours last night, another Kinect story cropped up. It seems some testers encountered difficulty in getting the Kinect to identify players with darker skin color.

According to GameSpot:

[Our] testing suggests facial recognition features of Microsoft's motion-sensing camera system might not work properly for some gamers... In testing the Kinect, two dark-skinned GameSpot employees had problems getting the system's facial recognition features to work.

Consumer Reports did not encounter this issue with the Kinect and facial recognition when we first tested it. But it did remind of us a similar rumor about a "racist" HP laptop—which we debunked—last year. So we decided to test the Microsoft Kinect again with two players of different skin tones, in varying light levels.

Here's what we found: The log-in problem is related to low-level lighting and not directly to players' skin color. Like the HP webcam, the Kinect camera needs enough light and contrast to determine features in a person's face before it can perform software recognition and log someone into the game console automatically.

Essentially, the Kinect recognized both players at light levels typically used in living rooms at night and failed to recognize both players when the lights were turned down lower. So far, we did not experience any instance where one player was recognized and the other wasn't under the same lighting conditions.

This problem didn't prevent anyone who was affected from playing Kinect games, since it can "see" and track players' bodies and motions using a built-in infrared lighting system.

Take a look at our video to see how we tested and hear the full results.

To sum up, the Kinect recognition issues affect automatic logins to the Xbox it's attached to if it's being used in poorly lit environments. But even without facial recognition, player can still log in to their personal avatars using simple hand-gestures or with standard Xbox controllers.

Gameplay wasn't affected at all, even in totally dark rooms. But Kinect users will want to turn on as many room lights as required to see room furniture or other objects on the floor, since many of the games require much motion.

Trust us: Your body will thank you for helping avoid unintentional injuries.

—Carol Mangis

Kinect has problems recognizing dark-skinned users? Gamespot

Carol Mangis

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