I remember playing on the original Xbox (1) when I had the privilege to go on the Xbox Live Beta Test in the UK, how bizarre it was to be talking to people from quite a few countries. It took a lot of getting used to and definitely required a certain amount of confidence to speak to random people you have never met before. The same is going to happen all over again with a new accessory for Xbox Live, which is the Xbox Live Vision Camera.
It was only a matter of time before Microsoft jumped aboard the webcam ship and set sail to Eye Toy Ville. It’s been a long time coming and I wont go into a rant about whose copying who and all that nonsense, the whole games industry is full of people tipping their hat at each others creations whether they are games, software or even hardware.
So it was inevitable that Microsoft was going to do a webcam based product at some point. What with its constantly growing Xbox Live community it was an untapped potential in the making and with the announcement of the Xbox’s own Eye Toy making its way to the Xbox 360, well… that just left the community jumping for joy over the possibilities this device could offer.
After many months of concepts and speculation of what the Xbox Live Vision Camera would look like through to what Xbox owners will be able to do with it, we have finally reached its release. Over the past few weeks I have had the pleasant company of the Xbox Live Vision Camera and now its time to review the little tinker.
You have two versions to choose from, but this is primarily to do with your Xbox Live status. The more expensive of the two comes with a 12 month subscription, which should also encourage extra people to the Xbox Live community (fingers crossed). The camera itself is identical. You do get a headset included with both packages which will either provide a very important spare, or if you are a new Xbox Live gamer, a voice communication device. You also receive a game code so you can download Uno for free.
- 640×480 resolution
- 30 frames per second1.4 Megapixel stills
- Very small form factor (35h, 30w, 20d)
Connecting up the Xbox Live Vision Camera is a simple process of just popping the long USB lead into the back or the front of your Xbox 360. Strangely there is no confirmation if the Xbox has detected the camera on the dashboard like you would expect from a Windows operating system, although the camera itself does light up when it is activated through either the Xbox 360 dashboard or a compatible game. However once you have plugged this little cute camera into the beast that is the Xbox 360, a new world of sharing personal bad habits and dodgy wallpaper will become available to you.
The wire as mentioned is quite long, so placing this above or below or even to the side of your television is possible. Like any wire though you have to be conscious of it pulling the camera with its weight or just simply being visible to the eye. The cable is flexible enough to discreetly hide behind a unit etc, you just have to be careful like any webcam that this same cable won’t pull your camera off into oblivion (behind your entertainment centre where all the dust gathers).
The camera is surprisingly small and sits neatly close to your television. Of course it matches the styling of the console itself, but that is a good thing. With the camera sitting so close to the Xbox 360, you need to consider how far away you are going to be sitting. Again this is not a problem thanks to a very versatile focus ring adjuster, which by a simple turn can sort out those blurry moments. This comes in very handy especially if you are sitting so very far away. You can also tilt the camera forward and back slightly, if you have had to compromise on positioning. If you have a likeness in height to either Danny DeVito (short chap) or Shaquille O’Neal (tall chap), this will come in very handy!
Now this is the time you brace yourself, as when you enter the camera and you are on the dashboard, you will see a lovely ripple effect with a certain persons face in the background. Yes that is you! You will have to decide whether this is a good thing or bad, depends how sensitive you are, but it adds a very nice little touch and can be configured to be the standard ripple (watery), edge, dotty or none. This can be found under a very obscure place under System blade > Console Settings > Themes > Customize > Camera Effect and there you are. You can alter some of the settings in the ‘System’ blade such as adjusting the lighting options manually; however this is probably best left to automatic, which is the default.
The first thing you may wish to do at this point is put a very large grin on your face, and take a picture of yourself. This can be added to your Gamercard, replacing the standard Gamerpic. Only your friends will see this image, but it does add a personal touch to your profile. Add effects (which are pretty basic and poor to be honest) to add extra interest or if you simply want to obscure your less than photogenic face. Included is the ability to send pictures along with your voice/text messages and last but not least a private one on one camera conversation, where you and a chum can have a nice chat about the weather outside and be both dazzled at the fairly large video window displayed on screen. If staring at one another isn’t enough, you can also (and this is the controversial bit) press one of the triggers on your controller, which will in turn start a rumble for your friend on the other end. Pressing the left trigger will make the left motor rumble and the same goes for the right triggers which will make the right motor rumble. So I am sure such a feature will go down a storm, but at 360monster.com, we will let you come up with the ideas as we are just too innocent to even go there.
All these features and games that support the device can be configured to zoom in and out where necessary, which allows you to have a close up of your face or a shot of your whole wall. Remember this is a living room experience so the distance of you from the camera can be very different from one person to the next, so having this feature is very helpful and allows you to target exactly where you want the target area to be. Depending on the software being used, you can zoom in at 2x or 4x. This should be fine for fairly large rooms.
The video image and framerate is surprisingly good even in gaming environments. Of course in one on one situations in private, the quality it ramped right up as there is no game data being sent and received at that time, however when gaming you can still get a very clear image and decent framerate making the camera less of a novelty and instead yet another way to express how you feel. The quality does depend heavily on the lighting situation as dark areas can make the image go quite grainy, but for the most part the image is very clear and quite staggering considering the amount of data that must be floating around over your internet connection providing game data, voice communication and now video information.
Any Windows XP operating system with Service Pack 2 installed can use this camera not just for Xbox Live use, but also for the PC universe of communications. Extremely straight forward install and your favourite messaging programs like MSN and Skype have no problems at all using this new device. The quality is on par with most high end cameras, so lots of fun to be had on both your Xbox 360 and PC now.
We have already heard announcements for games that will use the camera to even map your own face, which will be placed onto a character within the game. This will certainly freak you out when you see multiple dead bodies of yourself all around the floor. Xbox Live Arcade is probably going to be the main focus for the camera, as the games have very little going off on screen allowing for placement of the video information to be added easily.
More announcements on camera based games where you actually control the game with gestures have been made public. TotemBall certainly tires your arms though, so make sure you work out before getting the camera…
For the price, the features and what you get included, the Xbox Live Vision Camera is a must and yes even for you shy people out there. Just like the voice medium where it was very nervy at first, you soon overcome it. Just make sure you have had a shower and you aren’t flying low!