Video-conferencing has been one of the more powerful tools in the ongoing flattening of the world—distance matters little, whether it is for personal communication for business meetings. That said, the technology hasn’t progressed all that much since its inception. Most of the research has gone into making sure video conferencing programs are not bandwidth-intensive—the ease of use of the programs haven’t really been a focus. And, given that most video-conferencing programs are free to download, there really isn’t much differentiating them. Now, however, there could be. One of the most annoying things about video-conferencing is your inability to make direct eye-contact with the person on the other end. If you’re looking at the camera, you aren’t looking at the person’s face, and if you’re looking at the screen, then the other person sees you as not looking into the camera. Now, high-end software and hardware has been designed to counter this phenomenon—either by using special cameras and mirrors, or by placing the camera behind the display screen itself—but it is expensive. Too expensive for everyday, at-home use. A new software and hardware combination developed for Skype by Computer Graphics Laboratory in Zurich has taken a major step towards making this process affordable. The special camera and software use depth imaging to create an image of your face as if you were looking directly into the camera even though you were facing the screen—basically, it enables eye-contact over video-conference.
There are two key points here. The first is that the software is built around Microsoft’s Kinect hardware, and so it is compatible and ready to be used at home. The second point is the technology’s ability to act as a differentiator—key in a homogeneous (and highly price sensitive) market like video-conferencing technology. Microsoft should work quickly to buy the rights to the software, or its competitors will beat it to the ready-made advantage.