It seems like Microsoft likes to operate in two divergent schools of thought: “better late than never” and “a bit ahead of our time.” One could look at Forza Motorsport (late to the Gran Turismo party) or Xbox Live (a bit ahead of mainstream broadband adoption) as two recent examples, both of which turned out I Microsoft’s favor. Yet the company’s latest entry, the Xbox Live Vision camera, somehow manages to straddle both areas.
On the one hand, the Xbox Live Vision camera is way too late to the EyeToy’s party. Sony’s EyeToy is an absolute blast, and if you’ll recall, Microsoft announced its own camera just months after the EyeToy’s debut. Yet here we are, years later, and Microsoft has just gotten around to releasing Xbox Live Vision. The extra time has certainly done the peripheral some good: it’s got a sleek form factor, couldn’t be any easier to use and displays a decent picture. But the fact still remains: it’s a bit late.
But “better late than never,” right? Absolutely. Outside of a microphone-rigged headset, Xbox Live Vision is the most valuable peripheral I’ve owned for a Microsoft console. But not necessarily for the reasons you might expect. As an “older” gamer, I have friends in cities around the nation, and many of us are having kids. While the Communicator headsets have been great for gaming, the Xbox Live Vision camera is a great addition as we enter a new phase not just of our gaming lives, but of our lives as a whole. Living in different states and wanting to see the now-growing family is no longer an issue, as Xbox Live Vision simply plugs into a USB port on the Xbox 360 and fires right up. From there, you simply go to your Friends list and invite someone to a video chat. Voila! You’ve got yourself a virtual play date or a time to see a college roommate’s child for the first time.
Xbox Live Vision also lets you snap a picture, run it through multiple filters and special effects if you wish, then use it as your custom gamer photo. In turn, you can then share this new gamer photo with everyone on Xbox Live or just with the people on your friends list. In addition, you can take a photo and send it to friends along with a voice message, although there’s no way to leave a “video voicemail.” Sony promised things with the EyeToy such as video conferencing and leaving video voicemails for family, but none of those ever actually happened when push came to shove. It just wasn’t practical. With Xbox Live Vision, Microsoft isn’t making such promises; in fact, the company is almost downplaying the peripheral’s release, perhaps because it’s still somewhat hard to find in stores. The gamers we’ve talked with who do have it, though, are unanimous in their calling it “awesome.”
Yet remember Microsoft’s second school of thought: “a bit ahead of our time.” Sure, the peripheral itself is a few years late, but the camera still somehow managed to release well before any games that really take advantage of its functionality. OK, so you can play UNO and a few other games while seeing your friends on the TV screen. Lovely. Now where’s my EyeToy Play knockoff? Where’s the game that actually uses the video feed for gameplay? Where’s the product that will entice people to pick up an Xbox Live Vision camera if they don’t have friends spread across the nation? Frankly, it’s just not here.
Xbox Live Vision is a great peripheral. It’s not a great gaming tool. Not yet. In the three weeks I’ve used Xbox Live Vision, I’ve used it for just two games, but I’ve plugged it in for multiple video chats with friends. I saw my first videophone decades ago at EPCOT Center, where we used one below Spaceship Earth to make dinner reservations at a restaurant in World Showcase. In a sense, Xbox Live Vision taps my inner Disney geek and drives home the realization that I now reside in yesterday’s future. It’s ironic, then, that we still have to look to the future for signs of an Xbox 360 game that will actually use the peripheral in a gameplay sense. I personally love the Xbox Live Vision and am encouraging my old college buds to get one so we can catch up via video chat. But if you’re looking for Xbox Live Vision strictly to play games, you’re probably better off waiting until more games come out that actually leverage the camera’s inherent functionality.
- Overall: 8
- It’s a great tool for gamers who want to catch up with friends, but the actual gaming content isn’t nearly where it should be. If it had a game like EyeToy Play bundled with it, this would be a must-buy.
— Jonas Allen