Hands-on with the Xbox Kinect TV experience
Sesame Street has been entertaining children the world over since the 60s and we've all got our favourite moments. But as the familiar theme tune rings out in our special screening room for Microsoft's new Kinect TV experience, it's clear this isn't quite the Sesame Street we know and love. Our demonstration shows off part of a brand-new venture between Microsoft and a number of television partners - the Sesame Workshop and the National Geographic initially - that promises to deliver an entirely different way of experiencing great family TV programming.
There are two shows on display today - Kinect Sesame Street TV and Kinect Nat Geo TV - but it's the classic Muppet-fuelled creation that kicks things off. The Kinect TV spiel is simple: it's a new way to interact directly with your favourite characters using an Xbox 360 Kinect, bringing an extra dimension to the traditionally passive medium.
Once the familiar Sesame Street theme ends, we're introduced to charming puppet host Cooper - completely generated by the Xbox 360 - as he walks us through the basics of the experience. On-screen there's a magic mirror reflecting the living room around us right back out of the TV and it's designed, we're told, to get kids interested immediately. Indeed, we're summoned to stand in front of the screen and, before we know it, Cooper has vanished, only to reappear with a T-shirt exactly the same colour as we're wearing - a little bit of Kinect magic to wow the younger crowd.
That brief tutorial out of the way, it's into the show proper. Kinect Sesame Street TV combines both computer-generated and pre-recorded content - some custom made for Kinect, others taken from the show and given an interactive new dimension - and we're treated to a sequence with Cookie Monster and a talking tree. It's all about the letter 'K' and the live-action monster natters away, suddenly turning to address us directly. Jump, he says, to see what's stuck in the tree's branches.
As we hop around the living room, both Kinect and Cookie Monster can tell exactly what we're doing and react accordingly. In this case, leaves fly up from the bottom of the screen in time with our jumps and, once the excitement is over, a succession of objects fall from above - a kilt and, more improbably, a kayak. It's typically warm-hearted Sesame Street stuff, designed to entertain and educate the kids (and keep the grown-ups quietly amused), only made all the more engaging thanks to that interactive element.
Later, we're shown an equally cute use of the technology as an episode of Elmo's World plays out in the lower corner of the screen. As the story unfolds, a full recreation of the set can be seen above with us firmly in the centre. We can wave our hands to interact with the elements around us and Elmo's mini-adventure steadily moves from the small screen onto the set we're in. A door opens behind Elmo and a door opens behind us, spilling buckets and spades and other seaside delights around our feet. Elmo dons a hat and one appears on our head too - it's delightful and probably doubly so for the young 'uns.
These scenes are just a small part of a full eight Kinect Sesame Street TV episodes - lasting around 45 minutes each - which are set to be released on Tuesday, 18 September. You can pick up a full set, playable using a special Xbox 360 app, either on DVD or to download for £24.99 - or buy individual episodes for £4.99. Brilliantly, alongside the usual Xbox Achievements, you're given access to over 3,500 Sesame Street archive clips for 12 months as part of the asking price. It's a real nostalgia trip for big kids like us, with all manner of classic moments from the show - including the utterly infectious psychedelic pinball song.
Available in the same format is the less familiar but still enjoyable Kinect Nat Geo TV series. It's a range of wildlife-focused educational shows that investigate the natural world. It's more notably US-centric, seemingly concentrating on National Park fauna, but no less fascinating. We're shown a snippet about grizzly bears that's clearly aimed at older children, given its almost exclusive live-action, documentary design.
Interactions here aren't quite as impressive as Sesame Street's but there's still fun to be had, with the shows pausing at prescribed moments to offer optional activities. Having been taught how to spot a grizzly bear's footprints in the wild, our new knowledge is put to the test as Kinect asks us to raise a left or right hand to select the correct on-screen trail we think the bear has been down recently. This kind of educational angle is supported by fun trivia facts and even faintly ridiculous mini-games, which offer a pause from the learning for a bit of light-hearted silliness. One game, for instance, has us flailing around trying to swipe the honey from beehives while avoiding a sting on the snout. It's made all the more surreal as we're shown up on-screen with our actual human bodies with ludicrous bear heads transplanted on top.
There's plenty more where that came from too, and the whole thing is an encouraging demonstration of Kinect being put to fascinating use for something other than exercise routines and dancing games. These Kinect TV packages offer a heap of engaging content for the younger audience, really bringing the shows - and their educational undertones - to thoroughly relatable life. How the technology continues to develop remains to be seen but UK families will get their first taste of the action when Kinect Sesame Street TV and Kinect Nat Geo TV arrive next Tuesday, 18 September.
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