How Skype could help Xbox One edge the PS4 out of the living room

How Skype is helping Xbox One edge the PS4 out of the living room
Group chat at work on Xbox One

Xbox One "is about being a complete story," according to Todd Roshak, Lead Program Manager of Skype for Xbox. The story he's referring to is one we've heard a lot during the console's pre-launch campaign - the promise of an all-in-one living room device - and we're finally seeing it realised.

"I'd heard a lot of the possible names," he tells us. "But I loved the name when I heard it because it did encompass the vision that it is this all-in-one solution for your living room, and I do fundamentally believe - and this does go back to the very beginnings of Xbox - it's still a gaming machine."

Xbox One might still have games at its heart but it's bringing Skype into our living rooms in a way that's never been done before. Skype will ship on every Xbox One and will be raring to go from day zero. This isn't being treated as just some add-on app.

At Skype's office in Stockholm, Sweden, we were able to take it for a proper spin and get a feel for which features we will and won't be using when it arrives.

Funny bones

Skype takes full advantage of Kinect's 1080p camera while the console is the first device to have its own hardware-accelerated version of the Skype Silk codec. The entire thing has been designed with an awareness of both the platform itself and how differently we'll be using Skype in the living room.

More interesting though is how Skype on Xbox One uses skeletal tracking to automatically zoom and pan the camera around the room. This keeps everyone in the frame even when they're moving about. It also helps Skype on Xbox One to adapt to spatial constraints.


The skeletal tracking is fast and fluid

Handily, Skype can be addressed from anywhere on the Xbox One, so you can tell it to make or answer a call no matter what you're doing. It certainly gives the Xbox experience much more open and sociable feel.

"Communications is a fundamental human thing," says Roshak. "The ability to sort of make it much more personal and much more intimate, and create that place-to-place experience, that's why I wake up every day."

To contact someone over Skype you just need to say "Xbox, call [person's name]", although they'll have to be added to your Favorites list (limited to a maximum of 10 people right now) for you to do so. This also work to PSTN phones as you'd expect.

That said, Microsoft told us that you won't be able to have a Skype video call running alongside a game in snap mode from day one, which is disappointing to hear.

This means that right now the only way to have a Skype call while gaming is with it happening in the background as audio only. "It's something we've heard feedback on and it's something we'll be looking at," Roshak told us when we asked about the omission of this feature.

Control and command

Like making calls from the Xbox One dashboard, bringing up the Skype app is possible at any time with a simple "Xbox, go to Skype."

When you're in the Skype app itself you can choose to interact using either the controller, your own voice or SmartGlass. If you're in a text-based chat with someone, you (annoyingly) can't yell words at Kinect to type out your message, however you can tap on your phone or tablet with SmartGlass instead, which is a darned sight less fiddly than entering letters with the controller.


It's more exciting than he's making it look

When not in the app, you'll be notified of any incoming Skype calls or messages. However, we're reassured that you can turn yourself invisible to make sure you're not interrupted by a call from dad at a crucial moment during gameplay.

Hugh Langley

Hugh Langley is the ex-News Editor of TechRadar. He had written for many magazines and websites including Business Insider, The Telegraph, IGN, Gizmodo, Entrepreneur Magazine, WIRED (UK), TrustedReviews, Business Insider Australia, Business Insider India, Business Insider Singapore, Wareable, The Ambient and more.

Hugh is now a correspondent at Business Insider covering Google and Alphabet, and has the unfortunate distinction of accidentally linking the TechRadar homepage to a rival publication.