sensor cable

How-To: Extend the Kinect Sensor Cable Length

An out-of-the-box Kinect sensor cable only gives you about six feet of range. If you need more than that—like we did—you have a few options, some better than others. Here’s what we explored while working on The Hive/Gensler Multi Surface Experience:

In that collaboration, we were creating a smart space in the lobby of Gensler’s Los Angeles Headquarters, which reacts to users and user interactions in real-time.

The centerpiece of the lobby is a large table with a book on it. As visitors approach the table, an animated interface appears, digitally augmenting both the book and the table. Visitors can then explore content physically, through the book, or digitally, through the interface, which allows guests to browse Gensler’s portfolio on a connected 4K video wall behind the table.

The entire experience is based on motion and touch—enabled mostly by Kinect for Windows, which tracks user interactions. We mounted a Kinect for Windows sensor (i.e., camera) by the video wall, and we installed a second Kinect sensor and a Canon REALis Projector in the 15-foot-high glass ceiling.

The two sensors are used to track the user’s interactions with the interface, and his/her interactions with the book. All the processing is handled by an HP Business Elite, which lives in an AV room over 20 feet away from the Kinect cameras.

This is where things got tricky. The total distance we needed to cover between the Kinect cameras and the computer was approximately 32 feet, and the USB cable that ships with the Kinect sensor is approximately six feet long.

There is a Microsoft-approved Kinect Sensor Extension Cable, but that would have only gotten us an additional 10 feet. In the past, teams have used small, nearby computers to capture the signal then relay it over a longer distance to a server somewhere—but here, we needed a seamless experience, and a computer, no matter how small, would have detracted from that.

The Kinect for Windows sensor comes with a cable that splits into two separate cables, one for power and one for signal. The Kinect signal is relayed over USB 2.0, so anything that would extend that signal should have, in theory, worked.

We needed something unobtrusive, durable, and cost effective—so we discussed several potential solutions, each with its own pros and cons:

  • Passive (or standard) USB 2.0 extenders are inexpensive and widely available. They are limited to 16 feet, but most come as 10-foot cables. Not long enough for us.
  • A powered USB 2.0 hub used to daisy-chain the cables worked—and it covered the distance we needed—but it had too many drawbacks, namely the risk of power surges and the need to plug the hubs into outlets.
  • USB over CAT5 presented a durable and professional-grade solution, but along with a high price point. This solution costs more than the Kinect sensor itself, but it allows a signal relay of up to 330 feet.
  • USB 2.0 over Fiber Optic can enable a relay over 6,500 feet, but it’s very expensive. This wasn’t necessary for the Gensler deployment, but it’s an option worth exploring for extreme scenarios.
  • An active USB 2.0 extender was available in 12, 32, and 64 feet lengths, which gave us the distance we needed. This option was easy to use and very cost-effective—although in our early tests, we noted issues with chip stability. As these chips are produced in mass quantities, sometimes they have a bad signal or cause the USB to continuously disconnect, so be sure to test if you go with this option. In the end, we implemented an active USB 2.0 extender for The Hive/Gensler Multi Surface Experience. It proved to be reliable and cost-effective—but we also created a CAT5 infrastructure, should we ever need to change the installation to cover an even larger distance.

We hope you have found this helpful! Watch for more of them on our blog. Do you have other questions about the installation, or about Kinect-driven user experiences?