Microsoft Kinect is not racist, Consumer Reports says

Consumer Reports has debunked a report that Microsoft's new Kinect for Xbox gaming system is racist, saying that the system's performance is not affected by players' skin color.

"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," Consumer Reports' electronics blogger Carol Mangis writes.

Microsoft: 'We love open source'

The popular video game review site GameSpot had posted a story titled "Kinect has problems recognizing dark-skinned users?"

Kinect, a controller-free motion control gaming system, had trouble identifying dark-skinned players, GameSpot claimed.

"While testing out the Kinect, two dark-skinned GameSpot employees experienced problems with the system's facial recognition abilities," GameSpot writes. "The system recognized one employee inconsistently, while it was never able to properly identify the other despite repeated calibration attempts. However, Kinect had no problems identifying a third dark-skinned GameSpot employee, recognizing his face after a single calibration. Lighter-skinned employees were also consistently picked up on the first try."

GameSpot notes that Microsoft blamed the problem on lighting levels. Consumer Reports took it a step further, testing the system at varying levels of light.

"Consumer Reports did not encounter this issue with the Kinect and facial recognition when we first tested it," Mangis writes. "But it did remind of us a similar rumor about a 'racist' HP laptop -- which we debunked -- last year. So we decided to test again the Microsoft Kinect 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."

In conclusion, Consumer Reports said the Kinect facial recognition issues are only a problem in poorly lit rooms, but gameplay isn't affected at all once players log in, "even in totally dark rooms." However, Consumer Reports recommends turning on the lights to avoid injuries because Kinect games require lots of bodily movement.

Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jbrodkin

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