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Are you going to buy an Xbox One X This Holiday Season?

Hope to Receive it as a Gift


 Written by Glenn Wigmore  on October 03, 2006

Accessories: The Xbox Live Vision Camera is alive and well Glenn looks into its singular eye with this review.

The Xbox Live Vision camera for the Xbox 360 arrives as the first meaningful peripheral release for the console. The camera was originally meant for the Xbox, but only received a limited release in Japan. Now that Microsoft has fleshed out their online service and added flexibility to the next-gen console, the camera is a much more viable accessory for a variety of reasons.

The device hooks up to the Xbox 360 through a USB connection and is actually quite small in size. The cable is about seven feet long, and the unit itself weighs only a few ounces. The camera has a small stand that balances the entire device quite well, and you'll be able to see when the camera is on or off based on a familiar ?green ring of light? around the lens. Since the peripheral is plug-and-play, you'll be able to connect it to your console (while it's on) and watch as the camera quickly calibrates itself.

The first thing you'll notice is how the background changes on your dashboard. The theme that you have selected will remain, but a watery image will start moving around on top of that ? that's you. You can change how you want this effect to look, selecting from the default watery look, the cool-looking ?edgy? filter, or the ho-hum ?dotty? effect. This is really just a throwaway feature, but it is funny to see yourself moving around through the Halo 3 theme and so on.

The camera does auto-calibrate for the most part, but you would still do well to look at the Xbox Live Vision tab in the system blade. This tab was added in the last software update, and it allows you to adjust the camera for the type of wall you have behind you (light, dark, auto) or the type of lighting in the room (incandescent, fluorescent, daylight, auto). You can also change the focus of the camera by adjusting the ?focus ring? on the front of the camera. By doing so, you will alter the depth of field on the camera. All of this is reflected in a small video window in the upper left corner ? hey, you can admire yourself all you want.

Other dashboard features include changing your Gamer Picture, sending picture messages, and messing with the music visualizer. For the Gamer Picture, you can take a custom picture to fit your own profile and personality. Of course, the last software update added a private and public distinction to the pictures so this eliminates any problems that might arise; essentially, those on your friends list can see your private pictures, whereas everyone else gets the heavily monitored public Gamer Pics (which you cannot create yourself). It's a cool feature, to be sure, and with the built-in member protection (pun heavily intended), MS has found a suitable workaround for potentially flagrant pictures.

Sending picture messages is quite easy as well, and it uses the same picture-taking interface as the one for your profile. You setup the camera so that you (or whatever else) is in the middle of the screen, press the shutter button, and then a timer will count down and take the picture. After the picture has been taken, you can add all sorts of filter and color effects that can add some humor to the message you're sending. Example filters include blurring, image doubling, inverted colors, stretching, black and white, and sepia. This picture gets attached to the message you send, and you can still include the usual voice clip or text with it as well.

The other dashboard feature that allows camera use is the music visualizer, and it's actually pretty cool to be able to manipulate Jeff Minter's psychedelic images and colors by moving around in the camera; you see a sort of white distortion peeling through the existing visualizer ? a cool effect (think of the title sequence from John Carpenter's The Thing). I can imagine this feature generating some interesting user experiences as people experiment with how they can manipulate music and the accompanying visualizer.

Of course, one of the main features for the Xbox Live Vision camera is its video chat functionality. The video chat comes in two flavors: Dashboard video chat and video chat-enabled games. The dashboard video chat allows you and one other user (who knows why they eliminated multiple users for this ? future update maybe?) to connect and shoot the breeze while getting a video feed of one another. The video is pretty clean ? roughly 20-25 frames a second at 640x480 ? and synchronizes with the voice chat pretty well. The feed occasionally hiccups a bit (more so with actual game-based video chat), but not so much that it hinders the experience in any meaningful way. While in the dashboard video chat, you can also change your video feed filter to several different colors and styles (only a few compared to all the ones you can use with picture messages), pause the video chat (kills the signal) and vibrate the other person's controller ? yikes.

Video chat within an actual game works in a similar fashion, but of course there can be more than just two people in some of the games. The supported games (as of the camera's release) include UNO, Hardwood Backgammon, Hardwood Hearts, Hardwood Spades, and Bankshot Billiards 2. UNO seems to be the featured game of the bunch, and it supports up to four video streams for the players within the game. The stream is about the same quality as the dashboard chat, but the feeds do occasionally cut out during the UNO lobby. One user may be able to see another, while a third user might not be able to see either. Generally, the feed works pretty well, and it can be a fun experience playing something that is as light-hearted and simple as UNO while making fun of friends to their face. For UNO, the video feed replaces the Gamer Picture tile that usually sits in the game's interface, whereas a game like Bankshot Billiards 2 has separate video windows on either side of the pool table while people talk (playing three-player cutthroat is actually pretty fun for the camera).

The camera does oddly cut out once in a while, especially when entering and exiting game lobbies and when going back to the dashboard. The device occasionally stops (the light ring turns off) when it should be functioning, but a system reset usually does the trick. Probably just some odd bugs since many games had the functionality kind of jammed into them, but a noteworthy quirk, nonetheless.

Beyond the dashboard messaging and video chat lays the promise of something more from the camera. The recent release of World Series of Poker and its face-mapping software is a good indicator, and Rainbow Six: Vegas looks to do much of the same by allowing you to map your face onto a solider and then add all sorts of scars, tattoos and accessories over your virtual grill. I think face-mapping could be a great addition if used selectively on certain games, and it could really make games like Rainbow Six very appealing since people are likely to be playing the game quite a bit, and more than likely going to be playing with friends. Beyond face-mapping lies things like gesture-based gaming, but the only real game to support this at present will be Totemball for Xbox Live Arcade. By using your arms you can navigate the character on screen, but that's about it. As an aside, the camera (and Totemball) use much of the same tech and functionality that is found in Sony's EyeToy.

The Xbox Live Vision camera provides quite good value at both the $39.99USD and $79.99USD levels. The $40 package will net you the camera, a headset, three months of XBL service and a copy of UNO. The $80 box will get you the camera, headset, one year of XBL service, 200 MS points, UNO and Robotron. The more expensive package is actually quite good value if you have to renew your subscription for Live anytime soon, as you're basically getting the camera, headset, 200 MS points and XBLA games for $30.

At present, the Xbox Live Vision camera seems like a simple yet fun addition to the Xbox Live experience, and the camera obviously opens up lots of gameplay avenues in the future. Hopefully developers start including interesting feature like video chat in sports games that allows someone to gloat when they score a goal or something to that effect. How about a game that combines video chat and gesture-based gameplay? Could give some of the Nintendo Wii ?party? games a run for their money. Hell, even the camera filters and other functionality could be used somehow, but who knows. Still, if the developers focus on Xbox Live Arcade games as the initial litmus test for the camera, you never know where things will end up.

Bottom Line
The camera actually provides pretty good value-for-money so it's hard not to recommend it to those who enjoy goofing around with their friends online or those who use Xbox Live quite a bit. The camera is functional and powerful enough to be useful for the foreseeable future, and the currently available customization and video chat options are already interesting little diversions that enhance the level of interaction found with Xbox Live.

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