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There were plenty of reasons to get excited heading into yesterday's debut of Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Kinect, the $150 state-of-the-art motion controller that uses a camera to identify gamers and actions.
Folks had been camping out at Toys "R" Us' flagship store in Times Square since earlier in the week. Microsoft raised its forecast, going from expecting to sell 3 million Kinect units during the holidays to a whopping 5 million.
However, the long lines at the massive Toys "R" Us with the working Ferris wheel inside might have been the result of a special promotion promising $150 in bonus games and goodies for the first 3,000 buyers. Microsoft's amped-up outlook is also difficult to quantify. Are orders really picking up steam or is Mr. Softy simply trying to fabricate hype -- something that routinely happens in the gaming industry?
I'm skeptical. I've been tracking the best-sellers on Amazon.com in recent weeks to get a good read on holiday trends. Kinect appears to be trending considerably better than Sony's (NYSE: SNE ) Move controller in its debut two months ago, but it has failed to displace Activision Blizzard's (Nasdaq: ATVI ) Call of Duty: Black Ops at the top.
Now there's a little notoriety to overcome. GameSpot -- the video gaming website, not to be confused with video game retailer GameStop (NYSE: GME ) -- is claiming the Kinect's facial-recognition features may work poorly with dark-skinned gamers. The system failed to consistently recognize a few of its employees with dark skin tones, according to GameSpot.
Consumer Reports quickly jumped on the claim for some testing of its own. It couldn't replicate the flaw, saying the problem may simply be a low-lighting issue. It refers to a Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) webcam that had the same recognition shortcomings under less than ideal lighting.
Good news: The credibility-bestowing Consumer Reports believes the GameSpot claims are bogus. Bad news: The requirement for providing a consistently well-lit gaming environment may be a turnoff to gamers who prefer to play in dim-lit conditions.
I'm still not sold on Kinect, despite the early buzz. It will need to achieve a critical mass of users for software companies to actively develop for the platform. A motion-based controller also seems like an odd choice to breathe new life into an industry that's been in a funk for nearly two years.
We'll see how it goes. Kinect is clearly in the spotlight this week. Judging by the lighting requirements, a spotlight is probably a good thing.
Does Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 stand a chance? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.