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Kinect: Lag? What lag?

Opinion: Reports of latency are 'wildly overplayed', says Tim Ingham...

I wasn't built for dancing. Hips like cement and a stooped, avian-at-feeding-time posture preclude me from ever, really, 'having the time of my life' or tripping the light fantastic.

I'm the defiler of the disco; the rapscallion of the rumba. I'm the jitterbug's worst nightmare.

Oh, I've got rhythm, son - don't you worry about that. But when it comes to 'organised boogying' (*shudder*), I'm out of my depth; caught adrift on a sea of shame.

So why, then, do I find myself awkwardly prancing about to Lady Gaga's Poker Face - a-clapping and a-peacocking in time with its cadence-for-cretins charms?

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Why am I doing so on stage, in full view of a bewildered audience of ankle-shuffling, snigger-snuffling games journalists? And why am I flanked by two super-ripped professional body poppers; a beardy eyesore in a Louis Spence fantasy land o' man muscle?

Because of bloody Kinect, that's why. Cuddly, snuggly, caressible Kinect. Fun for all the family - unless your family contains a self-aware, asymmetrical male with a natural aversion to campy limbering.

As well as being critiqued by Microsoft's hired pirouetting beefcakes, my graceless physical buffoonery is, naturally enough, being brutally scrutinised by MTV's Dance Central.

It represents everything that makes me wince about Microsoft's Kinect launch line-up. It's garish, child-friendly, audience-friendly, hand-holding, acid-Technicolor, merrymaking nonsense. It's also tediously traditional in premise; an undemanding warm-up for a piece of technology crying out for a knackering, industry-shaking workout.

But - and this is all-important - it's frighteningly accurate and shockingly responsive. And here's the big bombshell: The same can said for almost all of the Kinect debut titles.

Having been invited to a special MS UK event, I'm finally given the chance to get a proper hands-on (off) with all Kinect has to offer - away from the impatient fluster and 'my turn now' rota of E3.

Remember those leaked videos showing the horrible latency of Kinect Adventure's Rally Ball; Jonathan Ross swiping what seemed like seconds before his on-screen avatar did the same?

Forget them - each and every limb flick or gesture I pull is represented on the TV in front of me with hardly any perceptible delay. Heck, the experience of kicking the rubber spheres in the title even feels cutting edge - if only fleetingly. River Rush is the same - my gangly hopping and leaning instantly affecting the water boarding action.

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Kinectimals, Kinect Sports - also both reassuringly reactive and judicious of movement. Only the latter 'cheats' at all - with a pre-emptive colour-changing indicator telling you when to leap over hurdles.

Joy Ride comes the closest to dulled input; steering feels restrictive and too simplistic (you can't even brake) and the game itself is too slow to be any good - but at least latency doesn't greatly exacerbate things.

Kinectimals also has its wobbles - the infamous 'stroke Skittles' face' sections are, perhaps understandably, not laser accurate. But running around with your pet, ducking under and jumping over obstacle course barriers; it all works without a hitch, and looks lovely.

I can't endorse Kinect's software launch line-up in terms of durability or originality. It's achingly obvious that these are Wii-aping frivolities - and that the machine's early life will be spent desperately grinning at cash-rich, Christmas-panicked mums.

But the kit works. Like, really works. It's much more than a shonky Eye-Toy - and fears of lag have been wildly overplayed. Believers in Kinect's long-term potential for providing unconventional, breakthrough experiences finally have something to smile about.

Oh, and what of MTV's Dance Central? Well, it's the slickest, most sophisticated piece of software I've seen on Kinect - and boasts surprisingly next-gen visuals. For abashment-free jigglers in 'Juicy'-branded buttock warmers, it's probably the best game of its type ever made.

Not that you'll see my red-faced, galumphing frame in front of it ever again. Trauma over. Back to the sofa...

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