Should You Buy a Kinect For Your Xbox One? What Does It Even Do?

When Microsoft first announced the Xbox One, the Kinect was an “essential” part of the console. In fact, the Xbox One wouldn’t even function unless the Kinect was plugged in. That’s changed, however–today, the most popular Xbox One bundles don’t even include a Kinect.

Microsoft is still selling Xbox One bundles that include a Kinect, and you can buy a Kinect separately and plug it into your Xbox One if you didn’t buy one at first. Here’s what exactly the Kinect offers, so you can make your own decision.

How Much Does a Kinect Cost?

Before we get too into features, let’s look at pricing. You can buy the Xbox One in several bundles. You can currently get an Xbox One bundle for about $300 with a game or a few games. Or, you could instead pay $350 for an Xbox One bundle that comes with a Kinect, but it just includes a few simple Kinect games.

The difference is $50, but–if you can get a game you’d be happy to pay full retail price for bundled with your Xbox One–the difference might really be more like $100. That makes sense, as you can also purchase the Kinect separately for $100. So you don’t necessarily need to make this decision when you buy the console. You can buy a Kinect separately later and connect it to your Xbox One to get the Kinect features.

There Are Some Kinect-Enabled Games, But Not Many

The number one feature you’ll probably care about is motion-controlled gaming in games and other apps. However, there aren’t actually many games that make use of this feature. That’s no real surprise, as game developers can’t rely on Xbox One users having a Kinect anymore. To reach a wider audience, they need to create games and apps that don’t require the Kinect.

Games like Dance Central Spotlight, Kinect Sports Rivals, and Zoo Tycoon allow you to dance, play sports, and play with animals by moving around and using arm motions–a bit like Nintendo’s Wii, but more precise. There’s also an Xbox Fitness app that allows you to work out with your Xbox One’s Kinect camera tracking our workout.

Microsoft wants you to be more than four feet and seven inches from the camera if you’re playing solo, or more than six feet back if you’re playing with someone else. Keep these size recommendations in mind. If you have a smaller gameplay area, this may not work for you.

The Kinect is far from useless, and you can certainly play a few games with it. But you won’t find any big-budget games that really take advantage of the Kinect. Ryse, for example, once required a Kinect, but now only uses the Kinect for a few voice commands you can also press buttons on your controller to perform.

Voice Commands Require a Kinect, For Now

The Kinect also enables voice commands on your Xbox One console. Say “Xbox, On” to turn on your Xbox One while it’s in Instant-On mode, for example. You can then speak to your Xbox One with a wide variety of voice commands to launch apps, navigate the interface, and even switch between TV channels, if you’ve set that up.

Unlike with the PlayStation 4, there’s no way to use voice commands with a headset. You need the Kinect and its integrated microphone to provide voice commands. However, Microsoft is currently working on bringing Cortana to the Xbox One. Cortana will work with headsets, which may mean more Xbox One voice commands will work with headsets soon.

Gesture Controls on the Dashboard Are Already Gone

The original Xbox One dashboard allowed you to control the Xbox One dashboard with hand gestures. You could wave your hand to the left or right to move around. However, this feature was removed when Microsoft moved to the new dashboard. “Usage was very, very low,” explained Microsoft’s Mike Ybarra.

TV Features Require a Kinect, if You Care About That

If you want to set up your Xbox One to watch TV–cable, satellite, or even free over-the-air (OTA) TV with an antenna–you may want a Kinect. The Kinect hardware is used to send infrared (IR) signals to your cable or satellite box, TV, and sound system. This allows your Xbox One to switch between channels, turn your hardware on and off, and control volume levels. The Xbox One essentially functions as a glorified remote control, sending the same IR signals your existing remote control does. You can even control these functions using voice commands.

Of course, if you don’t care about watching live TV on your Xbox One, this doesn’t really matter.

Automatic Login Is a Nice Little Feature

The Kinect also enables a nice “automatic sign-in” feature. When you sit down to use your Xbox One, the camera can recognize who you are and sign you in with the appropriate Xbox One profile. If there are multiple people who share your Xbox One, this is a neat little feature. You’ll be prompted to set it up each time you add a user account to your Xbox One.

Of course, this is only a small time saver–you can always just select a user account when you turn on your Xbox One controller. It only takes a few seconds.


Whether these features are worth the extra money is up to you. But the Kinect isn’t an essential part of the Xbox One anymore. In fact, it’s likely very few upcoming games will include Kinect support at all. Features like Cortana are being decoupled from the Kinect so more Xbox One owners can use them. It’s unlikely we’ll see any big Kinect features arrive with Microsoft so focused on the many Xbox One owners without a Kinect.

Image Credit: Microsoft

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.