Up until now, gamers and the press alike were led to believe that the Xbox One simply could not function without the Kinect sensor. The company clearly stated that it needed to be connected and turned on at all times in order for the new console to function properly in all cases.
Eventually Microsoft caved in to consumer backlash about having a sensor watching their every move even when the console is supposedly sleeping, so the company said okay, the motion detecting sensor can be turned off in the system settings. That was good news considering that Microsoft spent E3 2013 promoting an "always on" and "always connected" console.
Honestly, there was good reason to feel somewhat paranoid over the device. The Kinect sensor can see in the dark, it keeps an ear open for voice commands, and can track a heart rate simply by looking at the user's face. Users can turn on the Xbox One simply by speaking "Xbox On", meaning who knows what the device is listening to at any given point. NSA paranoia anyone?
Now Microsoft's Marc Whitten has come forward to explain that if Xbox One owners unplug Kinect, the world won't stop spinning. "Like online, the console will still function if Kinect isn’t plugged in, although you won’t be able to use any feature or experience that explicitly uses the sensor," he said.
He also said that Kinect will be totally off when the user switches it off in the settings – there's (supposedly) no secret sleeping mode. "You have the ability to completely turn the sensor off in your settings," he added. "When in this mode, the sensor is not collecting any information. Any functionality that relies on voice, video, gesture or more won’t work."
He added that when loading up Kinect-required games like Kinect Sports Rivals, users will receive a message asking if they want to turn the sensor back on in order to continue. "We still support using it for IR blasting in this mode. You can turn the sensor back on at any time through settings," he said.
A Microsoft rep later told Kotaku that if Kinect is only used to enable supplemental features in a particular title, then users will still be able to play that game if Kinect is unplugged. "We also have a ton of privacy settings to allow people to turn off the camera, or microphones, or put it in a state just for 'Xbox On' and IR blasting – there will be a lot of user control for that," added Microsoft senior exec Albert Penello.
He said that Microsoft recognized that there will be scenarios where people won't feel comfortable having the Kinect sensor sitting idle and quiet like a creepy HAL 9000 computer. The company wants everyone 100 percent comfortable with the machine, thus leading to the change in policy that now allows the sensor to be completely unplugged.
"The most obvious thing is watching a DVD/BD, or streaming a movie, or HDMI pass-through, your experience isn’t impacted (except you miss voice and IR blasting)," he said.