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Playing catch with Elmo in Kinect Sesame Street TV from Microsoft Studios.

This is better than regular television. But it’s very hard to beat the good old-fashioned real world.

That was the conclusion in the Bishop and Cook households this weekend after our kids spent some time getting a preview of “Kinect Sesame Street TV,”  a new interactive TV experience on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console. It launches today along with the “Kinect Nat Geo TV” wildlife series.

This a new effort to bridge the worlds of video games and television, featuring programmed content sprinkled with moments where kids can interact with the characters and activities on screen. Overall, in terms of the mix, it’s more TV than video game.

When Elmo throws a ball from inside the screen, for example, kids can pretend to catch it and throw it back. The Kinect sensor sees their motion and shows the ball landing back in the screen.

There’s counting coconuts with Grover and learning letters with Cookie Monster. And in perhaps the neatest trick, at least for us, the Kinect captures live video of the room and shows the kids on screen, making them part of Elmo’s World and other scenes.

If you’re a parent thinking about buying this one, pay particular attention to Microsoft’s recommended age range of 4-7 for Kinect Sesame Street.  Our kids are both just below that range, and the mini-games weren’t enough to grab their attention for more than a couple minutes.

Yes, Elmo just threw the ball to you! Throw it back at the TV! … No, at the TV! 

Chad Sapieha, the “Controller Freak” columnist for the Financial Post, had better luck with his 7-year-old daughter, although she complained at first about the slow pace of the experience, wanting more chances to interact. She was more enthused by Kinect Nat Geo TV, an interactive wildlife experience recommended for ages 10 and up.

After watching our kids play Sesame Street and trying both titles myself, I think the larger issue is that the tangible world still has a lot going for it. This is clearly more fun than regular old Sesame Street. But these virtual experiences are competing against activities preferred by humans for many millennia. Why would your kid play imaginary catch with Elmo rather than real catch with you?

But if your kids are within the recommended age range, these are both worth trying out, particularly if you already have an Xbox 360 with Kinect. Kinect Sesame Street TV from Microsoft Studios sells for $29.99 for eight 30-minute episodes, with access to additional archived content via Xbox Live.

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