I have not had the opportunity to do many hardware reviews, but I was nonetheless excited when I received the Xbox Live Vision Camera. This Microsoft’s answer to the popular Eye Toy add-on for the PS2. Given the 360’s impressive hardware specs compared to the PS2, one would expect the Xbox Live Vision Camera experience to be a leap up in terms of ease of use (if that is possible) and integration into the games available to the 360
I have to admit, amid the extreme clutter of my technological world, awry with electronic brick-a-brack unlike most people would find in a lifetime of electronics accumulation, I have never owned a PC USB camera. I believe Microsoft may have been aware of this fact when they released the Live Vision Camera, which, as many of the 360 accessories are, is compatible with Windows XP computers. The Live Vision interfaces nicely with XP, not true of the Eye Toy, which, while it was recognized by the PC, did not auto install for immediate use. While I am sure most people will not buy this camera simply as a PC device, it is nice to know it is compatible.
Once plugged into the 360, the Live Vision Camera immediately shows a ghost image in the dashboard background of whatever is onscreen. The image acts as a screensaver of sorts as it ripple-distorts the background if you move around. The camera has some basic software built into the dashboard that allows you to take a gamer picture of yourself to customize your gamer profile, should you wish for people to see exactly what you look like. There are also a small number of artistic filters that you can use to make your image a bit less lifelike should you, for some reason, not like the way you look.
The 360 and Live Vision Camera offer the capacity of engage in video chat if you happen to know someone else with a 360 and just want to sit and have a video conversation. I am not sure who, exactly, would find this useful, as I am much more inclined to have a discussion with someone in a game setting than I would be to fire up the camera.(In all honesty, I do not have any real reason to want to see folks I am talking to on the 360. Perhaps the day will come when I do want to see the other person, but I doubt it. I am sure no one wants to see me!)
The camera is extremely simple to use and has a circle of light displayed whenever it is on. This should prevent any embarrassing moments that might arise because you or a loved one forgot the camera was on when you are online. The camera provides a very clear picture that looks great on an HD TV, far better than the image I am able to get from the Eye Toy camera. Focusing is accomplished by simply adjusting the lens with a twist. There is no zoom function available either through hardware or software. The aim is adjusted by physically manipulating the ball and socket interface at the base of the camera. Probably the most impressive feature (IMHO) is the minimal size of the camera when compared to the relatively bulky Eye Toy.
So, what games are used with the Live Vision Camera? I am glad you asked. Actually, there are few games that actually “use” the camera. As a matter of fact, Totemball (which I will not review due to its massively torturous gameplay) is the only game to date that attempts to use the camera as a control device. The control is accomplished by keeping your arms raised in the air, which reminds me of Catholic School when the Sisters would have us keep our arms out from our side as a method of “gentle reminder” when our behavior was not good. Maybe it was these memories that took the fun out of the game, but I doubt it. If you enjoy keeping your arms parallel with the floor for minutes on end, you will love this game.
Several other games are compatible with the device, but only to bring your picture into the game. The problem I have with this is that most of the time, I am not sitting in front of my camera when I play a game. As a matter of fact, I am usually sprawled on the couch or in some other comfortable location when I am playing. Therefore, compatibility with UNO, Backgammon, etc, is not much of an incentive to me. If you enjoy sitting in front of your 360 without moving much, you may find this more of a selling point.
I have heard a lot of negative banter online during some games when discussing the potential of the camera, most of it centered on misuse or inappropriate use of the device. Yes there are immature and inappropriate folks out there, and I assume Microsoft will try to monitor exactly what is and is not allowed online. Keep in mind that Xbox Live has a built-in method for selecting people who you wish to NOT play with in the future, as well as a means of giving negative feedback should you be offended.
The camera is unimposing and extremely easy to use. I am just not sure that the $40 price tag is worth the investment at this time. It is certainly a well-built camera and accomplishes all that is advertised. But, until a few games are released that require the device, or at least integrate into active gameplay, I am not sure it will have a large following.