Lately our family room has been noisier than ever. “Play game,” commands my son Cole, 15, shooting a trying-to-seem intimidating glare at his father.
“Watch ESPN,” my husband, Dan, counters firmly, rising to the challenge.
“Find Downton Abbey,” I typically shout into the fray.
If not for the giggles that follow, a casual observer might assume we’re all nuts. Actually, we’re just vying for control of the Xbox Kinect, which responds to commands that are delivered in a firm, clear voice. In other words, the best enunciator among us gets to choose the night’s entertainment. But this giddy battle is a huge evolution from the disagreements that used to rage what felt like 24/7.
It started three years ago when Cole saved up enough money to buy himself an Xbox 360. I was opposed to the purchase, but he was resolute. Installing it in our common space (as we insisted) kicked off countless arguments about video game ratings, daily time limits, unplugging to go to bed at a reasonable hour, even how our furniture was arranged. So the fact that we are all now able to happily play together with that same Xbox is definitely progress.
The controller-free Kinect, a camera add-on that interprets gestures and body movement to control play, launched in 2010. Since then, unit sales have topped 66 million for Xbox 360 consoles and18 million for Kinect sensors. In December, Microsoft upped the ante, announcing a free upgrade that turns the device into a streaming-media machine that is relevant to everyone in our household.
Determined to reclaim the family room for, well, the family, I challenged my son to a game of Kinect darts. Soon his father and sister Ava, 13, joined u sand we formed teams. When I won a match, my gamer—accustomed to dominating all activities in this realm—was delightfully gracious. Then we moved onto Kinect golf, where Ava’s ultra-fashionable avatar demonstrated an uncanny ability to play under par. After a long match that left us all exhausted, she took the cup. Cole was startled that he’d lost to a novice but shook her hand and admitted, “Girl, you’ve got game.”
Embracing the Xbox as a family entertainment unit doesn’t mean we don’t argue about it. We still tussle, especially over time limits. (The parental controls don’t help because the password is only four characters long and permits unlimited tries. No matter what I come up with, my son hacks it in a half hour, tops.) But we discovered that Cole was right in complaining about the furniture—it needed to be rearranged tocreate more open space to play.
Xbox isn’t the onlygaming console or tech toy that cancapably stream video. A rundown:
Xbox 360 (xbox.com) Any Xbox 360 with an Xbox Live account (starting at $5 a month) can download video apps to watch movies through Netflix (netflix.com; subscription from $8/month), Hulu Plus (hulu.com; subscription from$8/month), Vudu (vudu.com; pay as you go), Zune (zune.net; pay as you go) and more.
PS3 (playstation.com/ps3) Rent or buy movies in the PlayStation Store or watch via Netflix,Vudu, Hulu Plus or Cinema Now (cinemanow.com; pay as you go).
Wii (nintendo.com/wii) Stream movies and TV through Netflix and Hulu Plus.
TiVo (tivo.com) If you own a TiVo PremiereDVR, it can also deliver Hulu Plus, YouTube, Amazon Instant Video and Netflix.
Roku 2 (roku.com) This puck-size unit delivers Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO GO (free for HBO subscribers), even Angry Birds and Facebook through your broadband Internet.