Kinect Voice Control For Australia: Microsoft Finally Answer Our Questions

Kinect. As expected, it was a major focus of Microsoft’s E3 press conference this year. Mass Effect 3, Fable, Ghost Recon – Microsoft was attempting the hard sell: rendering a device designed for a broad market desirable to its uniquely core fanbase.

Voice control was a huge part of the sell – but for Australians at least, it was a classic example of trying run before you can walk.

Because now, seven months after launch, three months after it was promised, Australians still don’t have voice control for Kinect. We spoke to Jeremy Hinton, Group Category Manager at Microsoft, to find out why.

“We understand the frustration,” claimed Jeremy Hinton, after being asked a polite version of the question ‘what gives’, “and we do share those frustrations, but we can totally confirm that we’ll go live with voice control for Australia and New Zealand by the end of this year.”

An extremely vague answer – but we’ll get to that later. Our main concern was why the whole process had taken so long.

“Voice Control is a very significant technical endeavour,” began Jeremy. “Every single time we do a new language we have to start from scratch.

“I know the perception is that English is English but it’s really not. I can turn on the US or the UK dashboard and it works - but it works to a certain degree.

“From our perspective we have a quality bar. This feature is huge part of our vision moving forward. It has to work and it has to work all the time.”

Jeremy then confirmed that the voice control would be put in place in time for the upcoming Microsoft games that supported it – which confused us. We thought games like Kinectimals had already utilised voice control – wasn’t this a separate issue?

“It depends on the games,” he claimed. “There have been some games, like Kinectimals, that have some sort of voice functionality, but it is kind of ‘fake’ voice control. It recognises the word you just said, records it and looks for that in the future.

“What we’re moving to is a broad range of words and content to be recognised. So, on the whole, we’ll be using that technology in Microsoft games. All the titles moving forward will be enabled for that. Some of the third party stuff I’m not sure – like Mass Effect – I can’t speak for those games.”

That’s the software sorted – what about the announcement made during Microsoft’s press conference, with regards to Live TV on 360. Foxtel and the Australian market was mentioned by name.

“We don’t have specific announcements around Foxtel at this time,” said Jeremy, “but we will absolutely enable the Zune functionality. You’ll be able to say ‘Zune suggest a movie’ and it’ll take you to a list of movies, you’ll be able to pause, fast forward and rewind with voice control. We will also enable some of the future content – like youtube when it comes to our market. That’s this for Christmas. Our intent is that you should be able to move through the entire Xbox 360 experience through voice control or gestures. It should be a seamless experience.”

Earlier last week we discovered that a company called Appen was involved in voice control testing for Kinect before its release – finishing testing in November 2010. We asked Jeremy – if testing finished late last year, why are we still waiting for voice control?

“I honestly have no idea about those other tests,” he claimed in response. “We had an internal beta testing around the May/June timeframe, but voice came in later. So those particular tests is not something I’m across at all.

“It’s only this year that we’ve been perfecting voice modelling and voice data, because it takes thousands of hours of different demographics and different accent types in order to build that model. We have only been doing that in the first half of this year. We’re continuing that work now.”

Voice control has been promised by the end of the year – but considering the fact we’re currently in June, that’s a pretty generous launch window. We wondered why Microsoft couldn’t be more specific with the date?

“Well,” laughed Hinton, “there’s engineering involved and those guys never want to be too specific.

“But we’re absolutely saying it’ll be done by the end of the year, but I think we’re cautiously hoping it’ll be a little before then.”


Comments

    So what do you do if you aren't a native Aussie? Besides getting back on the boat.

    Lets face it, a voice program rigged to recognise Australian speech patterns wouldn't help me.

    Hell, some Australian humans have that trouble understanding me.

    So, do people get to pick another voice set or something?

      Pardon?

        Is it that hard for Microsoft to let us turn it on with a message saying we don't guarantee its going to be perfect, this is BETA and be done with it

        let the casuals wait for the full awesome 100% working one.

        Think of it as an external beta microsoft.... or better yet, setup a beta through Microsoft Connect and allow Aussies to sign up to test it.

    It's a testament to the work of Mark Serrels and his continuing impact on Australian gaming press that we actually have any answers at all on this subject. A few years ago, Australians would still just be ignorant and be blindly happy to accept whatever we get or don't get when it comes to video games. And Aus gaming press would still be just rehashing second hand international press releases that are already out of date.

    Well done Mark. If I'm ever in Sydney again, I'd like to buy you a pint.

      Thanks man - really appreciate it!

        Hear hear, it's nice to see issues brought up not get lost and forgotten.

    Wonder if any of the voice control can be done with the headset, that'd be the main feature I'd want so buying the full sensor setup would be a bit of a waste

      I've used the Kinect with voice with my US account and it is far more elegant than a headset setup.
      Playing Kinect sports with the sound blaring a friend was able to hear me easily all over my huge loungeroom due to the noise cancellation and directional mics without having to raise my voice at all... the voice quality seemed more consistent than the crackling of the headsets I've experienced.

    So its our filthy backwater accents thats holding it up? Would it help if I spoke in Jive, a broad southern accent or like Shrek?

      Didn't Serrels do the voice of Shrek?

      I'm confused.

      You mean jive like this?

      Jive Dude Testimony: Bro' was onnnnn. Didn't trip, but the folks were freakin' man, hey, and the pilots were laid to the bone, homes. So blood hammered out and jammed that shit and tied that bad sucker to the runway like a mother, shiiiiit!

      (dialog from Flying High II - court testimony scene)

      Wonder what Kinect would make of that.

    I know it's not game specific... but the mention of Zune reminds me that the Zune Marketplace for music hasn't launched in Australia yet either.

    If you're going to make it so that your damn phone needs Zune to run anything... then maybe you could include some of the things Zune is supposed to do?

    Also, good news... thanks Mark.

    A bunch of those games with voice control are coming out in October... mmmmmmm

    A very polite and personal 'go away and leave us alone'. Typical. Not unexpected, but disappointing.

    So am I given to understand that this works for the myriad USAian accents?

    Why not just let us do our worst Seppo accent as a temporary workaround?

    A year later we might get this update, a year after the Kincet went on sale in Australia promoting this feature, and customers we're left to found out this for themselves? Very poor effort Microsoft.

    It better get the kiwi accent correct. As I don't want to have to say "xbox three sex-ty" to it, as it'll only understand the ocker accent. And you'll have to speak up at the end of every sentence.

    I want to be able to say "xbux thru sux-ty", and have it understand.

    I don't know how the interview actually felt to you Mark, but that reads like "Yeah we'll get it to you at some point, but we can't really say when, and couldn't really be bothered? Besides, you should be used to this treatment now considering how gimped the Live service is in your region compared to the US"

    Ok, the last part I made up cos it irks me big time, but still the first part I think is true...

      I still think not giving a specific date reeks of arse coverage. I don't think it's unfair to ask for a deadline for a feature that should have been there at launch.

        Thanks for taking them to task.

        I was very dissapointed that we didn't get this at launch and thought we would get a download to update within a month or two.

        How wrong was I!

        I want them to know we don't buy their bullshit that the Australian accent is somehow too hard to decipher than all the other accents around the world. Most likely they just thought they could work on something else and if we didn't buy it, then maybe then they might fix it.

        They should have had this fixed well and truly by now.

        I would have traded my Kinect in if it weren't for EDEN. But, I still probably will as it looks like you dont need to use Kinect to play -yippeee!!!

        Just like the lack of software and non-existent online store for 3DS has made me extremely sceptical about buying into Wii U, Microsoft needs to know that the complete lack of voice controls is a huge broken promise and is only made worse by their complete lack of action to remedy the situation almost a year following launch.

        Where's the compensation???????

    How did they get it working for the UK at all if it's apparently so difficult? The amount of variation and degree of variation of accents across the UK is massive. They could pool Australia, New Zealand and South Africa together and I would have thought it would still be easier to prepare for than the UK as a whole.

    At least someone got some awnsers for us. It just reeks of un-professionalism from MS to kep us in the dark, it takes a blowtorch to he face to get some clarity on the issue. You would think they would speak to the people who actually paid their money for the device.

    Sounds to me like Microsoft want a Christmas launch, missed the boat last year (no pun intended) and instead will hold off until Christmas this year before we will see it so they can hype it up as THE BEST CHRISTMAS PRESENT YOUR CHILD WILL EVER WANT, NEED OR ASK FOR! BUY, BUY, BUY!!!!!!!

    They're just quietly adjusting their suit ties in an attempt to avoid telling us that.

    I agree though - if the problem is voice analytics, why not push it out to the "problem audience" as a beta, capture how we have said the words the system struggles with in the background while we use it and then have that data sent through to Microsoft to "fix" the problem using the widest and most accurate collection of accents who will actually use this damn thing here!

    Thanks Mark!

    Screw E3, this was the most exciting news i read about today. But before the end of the year!? That's aaaaaages.

    I've got a pretty broad Irish accent so hopefully it works for me. Given the diversity of people in Australia you think MS would have released the functionality in the interim with small print for the real 'stralians that they're particlar drawl was still being quality tested.

    I know it's already been said, but thanks Mark for following this up!

    I agree that it is a bit of 'ar$e covering' not to give a specific date, of when this functionality is available, considering those of us who bought the Kinect at launch!

    They should just tell us to use the UK version and try to speak a bit posh. It would have the bonus of weeding out the bogan 'Strayans from being able to use the service.

    I think voice control should be activated with a "as is" "no guaruntees" concept but let you choose the region.

    US might work ok, but UK will work better, at least have some function while we wait for native support.

    All that being said I still have no desire for a Kinect.

    no comprendo de ozzi

    the uk has many different dialects and accents that are vastly different from each as dose the us, Boston accent vs a Kentucky accent for example. So I am calling bullshit on this

    Thanks for going after this - it sticks out like a sore thumb that we still don't have it, especially given that there's what - maybe 10 Aussie accents tops, god knows how they got it working for the UK!

    Just give us the choice of wich voice recognition pattern to use...
    Or let us train it to recognise our voice patterns.

    I am absolutely disgusted with Microsoft in regard to this. A MAJOR reason for purchasing the Kinect was the voice control.

    Here we are 8 months later and still nought. My question: Will Microsoft offer a FULL REFUND to those of us who are sick of the pathetic joke and simply want to wash our hands of this load of crap.

    Yes, the games do work, mostly, as they claim, but they clearly and constantly stated that you could control your XBox 360 with the Kinect , via voice. That is FALSE ADVERTISING.

    I may speak to consumer affairs about this, as ALL Kinect owners whoul dhave a choice of either a FULL REFUND of the purchase price or some compensation (DLC) for the wait that we have been forced to endure. It seems Microsoft are using the fast food industry approach. We have your money, now you have to wait for your product.

    Not impressed!

    Content of email I have sent to Microsoft Australia. I will post any reply I recieve.

    UNIMPRESSED !

    Is that enough feedback or do you need more?

    OK . . . . .

    As an XBox 360 owner (I hope you will save me aggravation and forward this to the Australian XBox team), I am ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTED.

    Here we are 8 months on from the launch of the Kinect system and it STILL doesn't do what it is supposed to do. Namely, VOICE CONTROL.

    You touted this as the next generation of gaming!, Yes, the games work fo rthe most part, a few hiccups, but hey, this is cutting edge stuff here. But we were PROMISED and LURED into buying one (especially in my case) with the idea that we could sit back on the couch and say "XBox play", have the phone ring and say "XBox pause" and lo and behold it would be so.

    Well, as I said, 8 MONTHS on and we poor Australians are STILL left out in the cold.

    Where do we stand? Should we expect "something" by Christmas this year, as Mr Jeremy Hinton has stated? Is this simply a case of FALSE ADVERTISING? Ummm, YES !

    So, where does it leave us?

    Should ALL buyers who are sick of watching promise after promise get broken, be entitled to a FULL REFUND or the purchase price? The product doesn't perform as stated, shich is a requirement under Australian Consumer Law.

    Should Microsoft provide to ALL Kinect OWNERS some compensation (downloadable content or Microsoft Points) to compensate us all for the JOKE OF A SYSTEM that you have provided us?

    I purchased this item for my family as a Christmas Present. It STILL doesn't do what we WNATED it to do. We are NOT IMPRESSED!

    Is that clear enough? I would like a FIRM DATE, SET IN STONE for the release of the UPDATE for VOICE CONTROL for the KINECT in Australia. I would also liek to know what compensation Microsoft are going to provide to Microsoft customers who have, until now, waited patiently and provided Microsoft the opportunity to make good on their product.

    Your response would be appreciated and will be waited for eagerly.

      Excellent Greg,

      I understand your frustration, & yes it has come to the time when we must revert to emails of this nature. I am a Microsoft Fanboy and a Partner, but even that level of dedication doesnt seem to help. I am dissapointed with Microsoft's handling of this situation. The major seling point of Kinect for me was also Voice Control, but I notice that you cant use Kinects Voice Recognition system to control DVD's????

      Do you have any further information Greg, or anyone else reading this. Any response welcome.

      Let us wait and see if Microsoft may finally hold up the deadline of end of year for Australians...

      Rory.

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