When asked exactly how 'off' the controversial camera and motion control device can be, he replied, 'You have the ability to completely turn the sensor off in your settings. When in this mode, the sensor is not collecting any information. Any functionality that relies on voice, video, gesture or more won't work. We still support using it for IR blasting in this mode. You can turn the sensor back on at any time through settings, and if you enter into a required Kinect experience (like Kinect Sports Rivals for instance), you'll get a message asking if you want to turn the sensor back on in order to continue.'
Many game sites have reported on the revelation, but a cursory glance through news stories from the last few months shows that this has been the policy for sometime.
Originally, Microsoft's plan seemed to be that Kinect would need to be switched on and unobstructed for games to work. This led to privacy concerns from many gamers, partly thanks to the NSA PRISM revelations that coincided with the announcement of the console, and partly due to a widely reported patent application from Microsoft that mentioned a camera set-up capable of identifying all the viewers in a room.
However, in an interview with Eurogamer, Xbox Europe boss Phil Harrison assured consumers that the gadget was not a monitoring device (there are reasons to be sceptical here, though). CNET later spoke to Jeff Henshaw, the group program manager for Xbox Incubation, who said, 'The system is designed to have Kinect be an integral part of the experience. It's not the case where you'll be able to remove the camera altogether. But you'll be able to put the system in modes where you can be completely secure about the fact that the camera is off and can't see you.'
This is essentially what Whitten says in the IGN Q&A article – that the sensors can be switched off to ensure total privacy. However, clarification from such a senior source has clearly accentuate the point: Kinect is, it seems, no longer a mandatory element in a functioning Xbox One.
This has led to speculation that Microsoft may be on the verge of announcing a cheaper Xbox One package, without the Kinect device. Sony made the decision to exclude the PlayStation Eye device from its basic PS4 bundle allowing the console to retail at $100 less than its rival.
This is extremely unlikely however. Microsoft has continually stressed that it sees Kinect as an intrinsic element of the Xbox One proposition, and is heavily pushing the machine as a social device – the corporation sees Skype video chat as a key selling point.
In a NeoGaf forum post, ostensibly from Microsoft spokesman Albert Penello, he states, 'We still believe in Kinect. We aren't interested in splitting the development base. The more demos I've seen, the more I've used it – the more impressed I am. The team feels strongly about Kinect, and I hope we're able to prove that when you use it.
'We also have a ton of privacy settings to allow people to turn off the camera, or microphones, or put it in a state just for 'Xbox On and IR blasting – there will be a lot of user control for that. The thing we all understood, and hence this change, is that there are some scenarios where people just may not be comfortable. We wanted people to be 100% comfortable, so we allow the sensor to be unplugged.'
The question now is whether the sidelining of Kinect will affect the confidence of developers who were looking to support the device in more subtle ways – perhaps for voice controls, head tracking or even heart rate monitoring. If the general assumption becomes 'Kinect is off in most households at most times', the impetus to draw on those features could fade.
Nevertheless, after the company's other major U-turns, which have seen it turn away from daily online authentication and abandon plans to restrict the sale of pre-owned games, it seems this is the final swerve away from the original Xbox One proposition – a proposition that greatly contrasted with PlayStation 4. While, elements of Microsoft's proposed digital distribution framework are likely to be slowly re-introduced, it is unlikely that Kinect will ever be offered such a starring role in its functionality again.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Luke Hayfield