Ahead of the official Xbox One launch on Friday, Nov. 22, Microsoft is previewing some of the video game console's advanced Skype video calling features.
Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011 in a blockbuster deal worth $8.5 billion. In the time since, the company has been integrating the voice over IP (VOIP), chat and video communications platform into a growing number of the company's software and device offerings.
Skype is now part of Windows 8.1's assortment of built-in apps. In August, the company began rolling out Skype video conferencing for users of Microsoft's Webmail service, Outlook.com.
Microsoft has also been chipping away at the technical barriers between its Lync enterprise communications software and Skype, allowing the users of the respective platforms to participate in voice calls and chat with one another. (Video calling support between the two platforms is in the works.)
Now it's the living room's turn.
"With Xbox One, we're making big strides toward reaching our vision of making the living room even more of what it has been—a place for people to connect. This is just the beginning for Skype for Xbox One," Karen Tong, a Skype senior marketing manager, wrote in a blog post.
Tong detailed how the Skype app for the Xbox One, along with the newest version of Microsoft's Kinect motion sensor, can help turn the couch into a communications hub for households. She revealed how Kinect's improved optics enhances video calls made from the couch.
Claiming that "the days of crowding everyone around the computer are long gone," Skype employs the Kinect's auto zoom features, 1080P image capture capabilities and new wide-angle lens to deliver HD video and frame subjects in ways that improve on the quality of video calls. For instance, "you can fit the whole family comfortably and easily into the frame so no one gets left out," wrote Tong.
Callers are always the center of attention under the new setup. According to Tong, "the Kinect camera instantly focuses on the callers in the frame and will pan and zoom automatically to make your video calling experience even better."
Skype notifications alert users to incoming calls and messages while they are playing games, watching movies or enjoying streaming content. The app also supports the Xbox One's "snap" feature, allowing users to multitask by snapping apps next to one another.
For a limited time after the Xbox One launch, Microsoft is offering Xbox Live Gold subscribers group video calling and up to 100 worldwide Skype minutes per month free for six months. The promotion expires March 31, 2014.
The news comes on the heels of Microsoft's efforts to build awareness for the Xbox One's capabilities in the days before it hits retailers' shelves. In recent weeks, the company showed off the console's voice-enabled multitasking capabilities, which include near-instant app and media switching. Microsoft also announced that during the launch window, 19 streaming apps, including heavyweights like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu Plus, will be available in the U.S.