Xbox Live Vision Hands-On Preview

Smile, you're on Xbox Live Vision! We take a quick look at the 360's new surveillance solution.

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By Jeff Gerstmann - posted August 21, 2006

We're sorry to be the ones to say it, but your days of gaming with no pants on are about to come to an end. Or, depending on how much of an exhibitionist you are, perhaps they're just getting started. Microsoft's Xbox Live Vision camera, due to be released on September 19, appears fully functional and ready to go. Microsoft left a handful of these sleek cameras in our care, and we spent some time taking it through its paces.

The camera comes into play in a few different areas. The first thing you'll notice upon booting up a 360 with a camera attached is that the video from the camera appears in the dashboard at all times, behind the dashboard graphics, with a watery effect applied to the image. It's subtle, but it seems kind of cool. A similar effect is used in the audio visualizer--any movement detected by the camera causes a glowing outline of the movement to appear onscreen for a bit.

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You can't see it in the picture, but Jeff just made Alex's controller vibrate
You can't see it in the picture, but Jeff just made Alex's controller vibrate

While you could easily audio chat with any other Xbox Live subscriber before, now the camera lets you get into a one-on-one video chat. The image quality is pretty good for a live, streaming, webcam-style video. In addition to just chatting with a camera and a headset, you can press the bumpers to apply different video effects as you chat, altering the color of your image or turning on crazy blur or outline effects. But, of course, you'll need a headset to truly chat, as the Vision doesn't have a built-in microphone. For those of you looking to start or maintain a long-distance relationship over various forms of video chat, if you hit the analog triggers, you can make your chat companion's controller vibrate. Truly, the future is now. In addition to live video chat, you can also attach and send still images along with your text or voice messages.

Did you notice how the last dashboard update created a second level of gamer pictures? That's mainly for use with the camera. While you'll still select one of the preset or purchasable icons for the whole world to see, you can also snap a shot with the camera and use that as a personal icon that's viewable to everyone on your friends list--but only if they're viewing it from the console itself, not on xbox.com. Speaking of which, much like how audio messages require you to be at the console, photo attachments can't be viewed on xbox.com.

In addition to having dashboard features, the camera will come into play in some games. Uno is the only current game out with camera support, replacing the big picture of your icon with a live video feed. We tested this out a bit, and the response from the people we were playing with made it sound as though the movement was pretty smooth. More existing Live Arcade games, like Hardwood Hearts and Bankshot Billiards 2, will be updated with camera support in time for the unit's release.

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The Xbox Live Vision is the only camera that will work with the Xbox 360.
The Xbox Live Vision is the only camera that will work with the Xbox 360.

The camera controls are mostly the same between the various applications. Your two main options adjust the image contrast and brightness by you telling it what sort of lighting you have and what sort of wall it's pointed at. Both options have automatic settings that seem to work pretty well. When it comes time to snap an image or video chat, you can digitally zoom in on a section of the picture, if you so desire. You can do this on the fly in video chat, which is cool.

Overall, the Xbox Live Vision camera makes a really good first impression. The image quality is nice for both stills and video, and it's been well integrated into both the dashboard and into Uno. About the only thing missing is the ability to record video clips and send them to friends. Pricing details for the camera haven't been formally announced yet, but some retailers are already listing it at $39.99. We'll have more on the Vision as its September 19 release date nears.

What do you think of the Xbox Live Vision Camera? Have you had any success tracking down a leaked unit?

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