Scott Hanselman

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

March 22, 2011 Comment on this post [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. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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March 22, 2011 10:38
Had the same results here. I have to let Melissa initiate the call, as it's too quick/stressful for her to do it on her side. It's a race to hit 30 buttons before the call times out (and there are at least 3 ways to answer the call). Even for someone used to the 360, it's insane trying to answer a call on the Kinect. Initiating from that end, if logged in already like you said, isn't nearly as difficult.

I found the blur less annoying than the same thing happening over skype directly in front of a laptop. At least this way, the kids are less inclined to show me the insides of their mouths :)

In the end, I do find this much better than using Skype. The audio is amazingly good considering everyone is 12 feet away from the sensor. The zoom/pan thing didn't bother me much, probably because it tended not to do it a lot with three people on the Kinect end of the line.

I set up an IM account specifically for this point-to-point and it's working out well. I don't use messenger for anything else :)

March 22, 2011 11:27
I admire your loyalty but, guys, just get an iPad 2/iPhone 4 like everyone else! Then not only "the wife" but the grandparents will be able to join in.
March 22, 2011 11:42
I've already got an iPad 2 and iPhone 4. Facetime is a little unreliable through firewalls, but I use Facetime with the boy's iPhones. It'd be nice if we both had iPad 2s.
March 22, 2011 17:21
You sure you want auto-answer on the Kinect video chat? Meaning, someone can remotely turn on a camera in your home with full view (and audio) of your living room? That creeps me out. In fact, I wish the Kinect had a physical flap to block the camera when not in use.
March 22, 2011 17:54
I'm going to have to try this. I don't travel much, but when I do, it'd be nice to get to see my wife and daughter playing in the living room instead of huddled around the webcam in the office.

A somewhat related question: you say you live in rural Oregon, what type of ISP do you use? I'm in (somewhat) rural Tennessee. I've had terrible luck with DSL, and I'm too far out for cable...

March 22, 2011 22:51
I'm rural, but we still have fiber optics, so I have 35Mb/s symmetrical.
March 23, 2011 3:05
I've had problems with the audio when using Video Kinect with Windows Live messenger. I'm not sure if it's due to bandwidth, Windows Live, or the noise reduction, but it trully is annoying to lose audio altogether. Have you experienced the same?
March 23, 2011 3:43
On a [un]related note: I think if MS works on the Kinect for a faster response its use as a new multi touch input device. Don't you think so?
April 09, 2011 17:29
Thanks for the tip...just set this up for my family for my trip to MIX this week. Will be great to be able to see them in full screen instead of just disembodied heads on a webcam.

Agree completely that getting someone to answer a call on the XBOX is next to impossible, particularly if they're not technically-inclined. But its easy enough to have my wife initiate the call from her end.

Good stuff!
October 02, 2011 22:51
+1 for Full screen on Kinet Video, can't wait to have this functionality
December 08, 2011 12:37
Agree, on Full screen on Kinet Video Chat. PS3 has it, why not XBOX?

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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.