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How Does This Feature Work?

Starting a Video Kinect session from Xbox is very easy. Once you turn your Xbox on, you can simply speak the following commands in sequential order:

  1. "Xbox Kinect Hub": Launches Kinect Hub.
  2. "Xbox Previous": Navigates to a screen of icons that includes the Video Kinect icon.
  3. "Xbox Video Kinect": Launches the Video Kinect app.

After the Video Kinect launches you are confronted with the home screen as shown in Figure 1. You will notice three friend tiles to the left, a fourth tile titled "More Friends," and a live video preview of what the Kinect sensor sees on the right. Unless you change your physical position, this is the video perspective that the participant on the other end will see of you.

Figure 1 Video Kinect home screen (Click to Enlarge)

This home screen for Video Kinect is the place for you to initiate a video call, albeit with gesture or controller support only. Video Kinect unfortunately does not have any voice command support. Hover your hand or navigate your controller over a horizontally wrapped list of one of your three friends on the left portion of the screen to select who to start a friendly chat with.

If the person you are trying to contact is not in your top three friends, select the "More Friends" tile to navigate to the screen in Figure 2.

Figure 2 Video Kinect "More Friends" screen (Click to Enlarge)

A visual distinction you will notice between your Xbox and Messenger contact tiles is the lack of an avatar for the latter. Messenger contacts simply have a generic tile representing them with their first name on display right above their online status, whereas the Xbox Live contacts have a tile with an avatar, their Xbox Live ID, and their online status. It would be nice and require not very much more software development for the Video Kinect team to include the messenger user's profile photo for quicker identification when navigating the contact list.

Once you have selected the contact to video chat with you will arrive at the video chat screen (as shown in Figure 3) that displays a screen for the person you are trying to contact on the left and a live video screen of you on the right. If the contact is an Xbox Live contact, their avatar will be standing in front of their blank video chat window until the person answers the video call.

Figure 3 Video Kinect calling screen (Click to Enlarge)

At this point, you can turn auto zoom off if you do not wish to have the Kinect pan and zoom when people, running kids, or dogs, come in and out of Kinect's view. After your intended contact answers, the video from their Kinect or web cam will be displayed as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4 Video Kinect session screen (Click to Enlarge)

Depending on the nature of the video call, you can use Kinect to virtually hang out with each other from the comfort of our own couches, conduct a serious business meeting, or get to see your spouse and kids in the family room while you're on a business trip. The video and hands-free audio quality is almost as good as what you have seen from some of the old sci-fi flicks with a couple of exceptions:

  • The auto sensing Kinect pans and zooms automatically in an amazing way that allows not only the tracking of me if I move around but also the tracking of other people in the room if they walk into view. Kinect will automatically zoom out to include everyone in the video conference, including the dog.
  • The video of the kids running around is what suffers the most. They are like Bruce Lee fist blurs on VHS tape as they run and bounce like monkeys around the room. Everyone else who acts more civilized appears with very good visual clarity.

When it comes to night time video chat in a low-light setting, I am pleased to say that the video quality is much more impressive than I anticipated. In my test, the video quality in a low-light scenario using Kinect is astonishing, even though I was about 12 feet from the Kinect.

To illustrate this, I have captured the PC Messenger picture-in-picture view during a video session with Kinect in a low-light scenario, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5 PC Messenger view of chat session with Kinect (Click to Enlarge)

As great as the experience is when calling from Kinect to a PC Messenger contact, calling from the PC Messenger to a Kinect contact is not a consistent experience. To start the video call, just right mouse click the contact in Messenger and left mouse click "Start a video call" from the context menu.

When the Xbox user is logged in, they will get an Xbox alert from their inbox indicating that a particular user wants to video chat. The Xbox user only needs to open their mail that contains the invite and select the accept invite option. The problem is that the video connection does not always stay connected in my testing, even though if I call from the Kinect to the same computer I have no dropped connection issues.

Although there are probably great scenarios that work well when calling from PC Messenger, I highly recommend having the Kinect user do the calling for a great consistent experience.

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