Scott Hanselman

Microsoft "Video Kinect" Chat Review - Video Chat on the Big Screen, The Good and The Bad

March 22, '11 Comments [11] Posted in Gaming | Remote Work | Reviews
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Video Kinect Call I use Video Chat all the time. Like ALL the time. If you check out the Remote Work section of my blog you'll find dozens of posts about optimizing your video chat experience. Living in rural Oregon and wrking remotely for Microsoft, as well as my job as a community-focused open source individual means that I'm skyping or video calling people much of the week.

I have a Cisco Umi for work, and I use HiDef video cameras and Skype for talking to folks during the day. However, I'm always trying to find out the best way to talk to The Wife and Kids when I'm on the road. I wrote an article a while back called Skyping the Wife: Foolproof Video Conferencing with Your Family While on the Road where I setup auto-answer for Skype so my wife wouldn't have to do anything. However, Skype seems to have removed or hidden the auto-answer feature lately as they are constantly moving their features and options around. Plus, whenever I call home with Skype my wife has to drag out the laptop and with its camera's small field of view I usually just end up seeing the tops of the boy's heads. It's a hassle.

A few weeks ago I saw on Twitter that my Xbox 360 with Kinect supports Video Chat using an app called Video Kinect. Apparently this is already installed when you setup your Kinect so you probably have it already!

Video Kinect is effectively a Windows Live Messenger client. You can chat other Kinect/Xbox Live folks, but you can also chat or receive calls from anyone on your Live Messenger list of friends. One you log in to Messenger (be sure to save your password) you will see avatars for Xbox folks and Live Messenger icons (no faces, sadly) for Windows people.

Video Kinect Friends List

You can call from any of these screens, using your controller or your hands via Kinect.

Video Kinect contact list

First thing you should do, IMHO, is turn off the AutoZoom feature. It uses a Digital Zoom to artificially pan/zoom to the face of the person speaking. It's very disjointed, inconsistent but more importantly, it doesn't allow you to really appreciate the wide field of view that the Kinect camera gives you. It's massive and you can see the whole room...this reason alone is why I think Video Kinect will be THE way I talk to the family when travelling. Especially when the kids are running around.

Video Kinect options

The resolution of the Kinect is 640x480 which is pretty darn good. It looks fabulous from my laptop on the receiving side. See the pic below.

Video call with Video Connect and Live Messenger

The audio is excellent as well, surprisingly so. I can hear and see everything that's going on in the TV room which is fantastic with active kids.

The Good

The Kinect has a great webcam. Good resolution and easy to see.

It's on the big screen and using the big stereo. The kids, ahem, connect more with the large system than the laptop. Daddy's actual size on the flat screen.

The Bad

Either Video Kinect, the codec, or the camera sucks for quick quick action. I see only blurs when the kids are running around. Not sure if this is hardware or software, but it's pointed and reproducible. It's not a deal breaker, but it's clear that they've optimized for the "sit and chat" scenario, not the "watch the kids go insane" scenario. Surprisingly the latter is the 80% in my 80/20 world.

There's no option for FullScreen with PIP. Your local image is the same size as the remote one. At leas make this an option. It's weird.

Answering a call ON the Xbox is ridiculously hard. My wife was unable to do it and it takes too many button pushes. You have to press the center Guide button, then down to select the call notification from an Inbox that comes in like a game invite. "Friend wants to Video Kinect with you..." And all this must happen in (it seems) less than 30 seconds. I called and called and the wife just couldn't do it. This means that all our calls have to be originated by her. When she calls me, I just click Answer in Windows Live Messenger. She also found it too hard to log in, so I just keep it logged in at home as me and I log in as her when remote. I asked some friends and over half said they do the same. It's a common scenario that they (the Powers That Be) aren't optimizing for.

The Wish List

  • Fullscreen
  • Easier or auto-answer
  • Easier to launch Kinect
  • Better framerate
  • Skype support

Still, it's pretty sweet, and since I don't have Skype TV and my Umi is in my office, for me Video Kinect plus Live Messenger is the best solution for travelers calling kids back home today.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Hanselminutes Podcast 240 - Developing Indie Games for Xbox 360 and XNA with George Clingerman

November 19, '10 Comments [2] Posted in Gaming | Learning .NET | Podcast
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Kissy Poo Xbox Live Indie Game for Kids This week Scott talks to George Clingerman, a member of the Independent Xbox Game Development Community (Indie Games) who also runs George is a business developer by day and a game developer by night, using C# and managed code in both instances. How does this all work and how can you develop and sell your own games?

Links from the Show

NOTE: If you want to download our complete archives as a feed - that's all 240 shows, subscribe to the Complete MP3 Feed here.

Also, please do take a moment and review the show on iTunes.

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Do also remember the complete archives are always up and they have PDF Transcripts, a little known feature that show up a few weeks after each show.

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As I've said before this show comes to you with the audio expertise and stewardship of Carl Franklin. The name comes from Travis Illig, but the goal of the show is simple. Avoid wasting the listener's time. (and make the commute less boring)

Enjoy. Who knows what'll happen in the next show?

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Accidental Prescience and the Secrets of Project Natal

June 23, '09 Comments [16] Posted in Channel9 | Gaming
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I can't remember which episode, but a few years ago I mentioned on my podcast that I didn't understand why companies were spending so much time with touch screens and multi-touch input devices when we all have a perfectly good input device staring at us, unused, everyday - our webcams. Minority Report was not only a great movie, but a great user experience idea.

Johnny Chung Lee (I thought he and I had a bromance going, but it's just a fauxmance. It's one way, sniff, he doesn't know I'm alive! ;) did some amazing work in this space using the Wii remote a while back.


Ever since I saw Minority Report, perhaps even before since it's such an obvious idea, I've been searching and trying to figure out when and how this is going to happen. From my point of view, there's just no reason I shouldn't be able to make a small gesture and push a window over to another monitor. Swipe down in the air, minimize. It if was reliable, it'd be a perfect and elegant addition to the mouse and keyboard.

Johnny now works for Microsoft, and recently we learned that he's been working with the team that is doing Project Natal. If you've been under a virtual rock, here's a video what Natal does. Basically it tracks your body and you become the game controller. If it works, it'll be epic. If it fails, it'll be sad. The real question is WHEN. My bet is Christmas, only because it's obvious.

From Johnny's Blog:

The 3D sensor itself is a pretty incredible piece of equipment providing detailed 3D information about the environment similar to very expensive laser range finding systems but at a tiny fraction of the cost. Depth cameras provide you with a point cloud of the surface of objects that is fairly insensitive to various lighting conditions allowing you to do things that are simply impossible with a normal camera.

But once you have the 3D information, you then have to interpret that cloud of points as "people". This is where the researcher jaws stay dropped. The human tracking algorithms that the teams have developed are well ahead of the state of the art in computer vision in this domain. The sophistication and performance of the algorithms rival or exceed anything that I've seen in academic research, never mind a consumer product. At times, working on this project has felt like a miniature “Manhattan project” with developers and researchers from around the world coming together to make this happen.

Before the world (or I) had ever heard of Project Natal, I pounced on interviewed Johnny at Mix 09 in Las Vegas. Recently Raleigh Buckner mentioned on Twitter that there was a lot "said without actually saying" in that interview, and darn it, he's right. I asked the right questions, and Johnny answered, but we (the collective) didn't see!

Now, go watch the interview again, this time with the knowledge of Project Natal's existence...

Johnny Lee on Computer Vision

Wow. I just bumped into Johnny Lee in the halls here at Mix09. I'm a huge fanboi with a man-crush on this dude. You've seen Johnny before on Channel 9 talking to Robert Hess.  Johnny's a legend (in my mind) in the computer vision space, and he put up with me gushing at him here at Mix09. We chatted in the hall about computer vision, what he's working on, how he got the gig at Microsoft and where he sees the future of human-computer-interaction.

Crazy stuff. I'm very excited to see how far they can take this.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Quake Live Review and Rant - Why is this interesting?

March 2, '09 Comments [34] Posted in Gaming
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So I installed and have been playing QuakeLive. Here's the Review part. It's fun. It's Quake. Fast, pretty, twitchy, fun. Quake. Good fun.

Here's the Rant part. I'm having trouble understanding is why this is interesting in any way?

Folks on the 'tubes are saying, "OMG, this is a Browser-based game?"

To say, browser-based game, to me, implies effortless installation. More importantly, it also implies a reason to be in the browser. See the screenshot below? That's the MSI installer I ran as Admin.


See this screenshot? That's IE requesting permission to run this plugin. There's a separate MSI if you want to run it in Firefox. I download and installed both installers separately.


Here's a sample error message:

** GLW_CreateWindow: could not register window class
Please report the the problem you encountered on the Quake Live forums.
You must reload the web page to make this display go away.

A web (or web-enabled) app that doesn't phone home with errors? Hm. Doesn't seem like a web app to me.

See this screenshot? That's my %appdata% folder with 266 MEGS downloaded. It gets downloaded in the background while you "train." Why do you think they train you for 10 minutes in a single level? It's because they are downloading the other 1/4 gig of content.


I'm sorry, but this is a re-imagining of Quake III Arena, compiled as a DLL and running inside my browser. It's the same PAK file concept and format that you (possibly) remember from ten years ago. Yes, 1999.

Yes, there's social aspects, background content delivery, easy multi-player matching, but why is this a DLL living inside the browser's memory space and not an EXE that jumps out of the browser? Do I want something that I think of as a browser plugin downloading 256megs+ of content for me? Why is no one pointing out that the emperor frag-fest has no clothes?

Apparently this is interesting to the young people today because the ones playing Quake Live because they weren't alive when Quake was released originally.

I would rather that a game company like ID spend more time really innovating in the gaming engine space (and I know they are), rather than repackaging the same game in different ways for a decade.*

Quake Live is NOT an interesting game. There are more interesting ways to distribute games that have been working nicely for me since 2003. GuildWars is another GREAT example. It was a <1meg EXE to bootstrap and streamed the levels you needed. There's no reason for QuakeLive to be shoe-horned into a browser plugin.

Now I'm off to delete 256 megs of Quake III from %AppData%\LocalLow\id Software\quakelive\home\baseq3.

End of rant. Move along.

*Quake and its four sequels, Quake II, Quake III Arena, Quake 4, and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Xbox 360 NXE - Forget Games, The Xbox is a Media Center

November 20, '08 Comments [46] Posted in Gaming | Reviews
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avatar-body What's all this talk about gaming on the Xbox 360? I can't remember the last time I actually played a game on the thing, but I can say that both The Wife and I use it daily. I'd even say she uses the Xbox 360 more than I do.

She plays music from the Zune and iPod, she runs photo slideshows for the boys and when we have company.

Recently we had a party for my Dad and the Xbox was showing slideshows of him over the years with his favorite music running in the background. My wife and I didn't think anything of it (it seems pretty obvious to us) but oddly enough it was the hit of the party. A half-dozen people were literally freaking out. The Xbox can do that?

Why You Should Buy an Xbox 360 Even If You Don't Play Games

Here's my list. What's yours?

  • You can just plug in any MP3 player or Digital Camera that uses USB connectors and immediately view photos and play music.
    • I've had company come over a number of times with a camera or an SD card, and I've just attached them to the Xbox and we've watched their slides. Just use a USB adapter for camera cards or plug the camera USB connector into the Xbox directly. The same works with Zunes or iPods.
  • You can stream movies from Netflix (some in HD)
    • This is new and pure hotness. I've been beta testing the New Xbox Experience (NXE) and I don't miss the old Xbox at all. I cancelled by Blockbuster account 6 months ago in anticipation of this. There's about 12,000 movies and 300 in HD. I just happed to watch "Outsourced" (recommended) and it was in HD. The Wife digs it, and we can easily catch up on TV. I hope that someone gets in there and then I could die happy.



  • You can easily stream video and music from your Windows (or Mac) machine to your Xbox.
    • You can use any uPNP streaming software like Twonky, or just use Windows Media Player. Click the down arrow on "Library" and click "Media Sharing." It's even easier in Windows 7. Just click the Windows button and type "Share." You can share throughout your network, or on a device by device basis.
    • We have a Zune Pass which basically lets you "lease" music for $14.99 a month. Basically for the price of 1 CD a month we can listen to all the music we like on our two Xboxes and two Zunes. The music streams from my main machine that runs the Zune software.



    • The Xbox360 can console H.264 and MPEG4 video files, but the device you're streaming FROM needs a codec, like 3ivx. I discovered that the Flip video camera that I bought includes the 3ivx codec. I connected to my Windows Home Server and installed the Flip Software by connecting the Flip to the Windows Home Server (WHS). That got me a free 3ivx codec, and now I can easily stream those files to my Xbox. Bam. (Totally unsupported, remember, I don't work for ANY of those teams.)
    • You can use Connect360 to stream content from your Mac to your Xbox360.

Windows Media PlayerMedia Sharing 

  • The Xbox 360 is a Windows Media Center Extender.
    • You can basically remote into your Windows machine and watch TV if you have a tuner card, watch saved shows and movies, and browse the web (with a Media Center add-on app). It looks and acts just as if you're running Media Center on your PC.

imageWe use the Xbox in this way so often that we have two, one old Xbox 360 bought early on and an Xbox Elite with HDMI bought more recently. Both of them seamlessly upgraded to the final NXE this morning.

The (NXE) New Xbox Experience

I won't even try to review the NXE, but suffice to say, it's awesome. Check out the Joystiq videos and reviews of the Xbox NXE for great details.

 DSC_0125 DSC_0126

Buying a Xbox 360

Here's a screenshot of the very awesome and complete Xbox 360 SKU chart from Joystiq, trimmed to remove discontinued models.

If you're looking for balance, the Pro is the best deal. It's $300, has decent storage and supports HiDef via RGB Component Cables. If you want HDMI, you'll need the Elite, but you'll double your hard drive space. (Update: It USED to be the case that the Elite had HDMI but now all Xboxes have at least the port, although the Elite comes with a cable also.) You can use that space to store movies, videos, photos, etc, but really it's only useful for storing games or ripping CDs.

OK, I'm off to NOT play games on my Xbox.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.