A moment's silence for my EyeToy, please. Like the Atari Jaguar, the Dreamcast keyboard and the Xbox Music Maker microphone before it, it now belongs to the dust-monsters under my bed, and I probably won't see it again until I move house.
I always rather liked EyeToy, but Xbox Live Vision trumps it. Not because it's smaller, cuter, and glows green around the lens when it's plugged in, and not even because it works out of the box with Windows XP as well, but because it's got the Xbox 360 dashboard on its side.
Microsoft's standardised operating system means that you can send and receive video-chat invites and picture messages, take photographs for your gamer-picture and adjust settings even when you're busy trying to gun your way through Doom or playing Ghost Recon online. Just hit the Guide button in the centre of the pad and it's all fairly self-explanatory. Not having to swap discs around or fiddle with PS2's niggly online service gives it infinitely more appeal than its only real console competition.
Plug it in for the first time and thanks to the updates Microsoft beamed to your console this spring, it's ready to go by the time you've automatically signed in.
Layered between your dashboard wallpaper and the overlay of icons you'll find a sort of fluid video background, which shows a faint outline of whatever the camera's looking at. Dive into the System area of the dashboard and you can adjust for lighting conditions, while a grey ring swivels around the nose of the camera itself allowing you to refocus.
Using it to customise your gamer picture is incredibly simple. Pull up the edit-profile page and you can take a photograph to replace whatever your gamer picture currently is - although it's worth noting that only people on your friends list will be able to see this, with strangers left to ponder that picture of a chicken you downloaded last week instead.
But if they're really dying to see your face, they can always send you a video-chat invite. Once you accept, and the connection's been made, you both get a decent-size video stream of the other, while you can chat away using the bundled headset - the same one you've spending a tenner on otherwise.
As with photographs, you can zoom in on a particular section of the screen in video-chat, so neither of you has to lean forward or anything, while an array of visual filters bound can be skipped between instantly using the left and right bumper buttons on the pad. The blurry one's probably best for handsome devils like ourselves, but there are also cartoony ones and a nice sepia option for the more conservative chatter.
Our favourite feature though is the way you can make the other person's pad rumble by holding the left or right trigger buttons. Presumably it's meant to be a sort of MSN Messenger style "nudge" function, but you can probably think of other uses for it - unless you're a littlun, in which case go and find an adult and ask what happens when a mummy and a daddy love each other very much. (And don't be fobbed off with the birds and the bees either - demand graphics.)
Granted, you'll need to make sure you have an Xbox Live Gold account to take advantage of all this video-chat stuff, but you do at least get a month's free access bundled with the camera. Failing that, you can always just use the camera for spicing up music visualisations at parties or, more likely, you'll plug it into the PC and use it for free there.
Any Windows XP PC with Service Pack 2 installed can make use of the Vision camera after a quick trip to Windows Update, and although you'll need to provide your own microphone (the 360 headset only works with that), you should have no trouble at all getting it working with PC software afterward - it works immediately with the Windows Live Messenger, and third-party software should be fine too.
That's not all the camera does though, obviously. Like EyeToy, the intention is to have it offered as an alternative control method in some games. TotemBall, the first game to require the Vision camera to be played at all, is available for free on Xbox Live Arcade, and the same developer, Strange Flavour, is already at work on a pair of camera-based follow-ups.