Dave Pollard's environmental philosophy, creative works, business papers and essays.
In search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.



March 31, 2004

HELP ME TEST DESKTOP VIDEOCONFERENCING

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves,Working Smarter — Dave Pollard @ 09:42
I recently wrote that a critical element of Social Networking Applications will be the renewed use of desktop videoconferencing. Not the old, jerky CU-SeeMe, but real, professional quality, simple person-to-person videoconferencing, which I nicknamed Simple Virtual Presence (SVP). In a recent review of alternatives, PC Magazine rated seven desktop video apps (see table following), mysteriously ignoring Microsoft NetMeeting, and also rated several webcams that work with these apps, rating two of them (see note under the table) much higher than the rest.


Price*
Ease of
Use
Video
Quality
Firewall
Compat.
Group
Conf.
App
Sharing
White
Board
Comm’ty
Directory
Overall
Rating
Apple
iChat AV

$30

VG

VG

F

No

No

No

Yes

G
MSN
Messenger 6

free

VG

F

VG

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

G
SightSpeed
100 min/mo free,
then $30/month

VG

VG

VG

No

No

No

No

VG
VibePhone
v. 1.6

$5/100 min

E

G

E

No

No

No

No

VG
VidiTel**

$35/month

VG

G

E

Yes
Yes (View
Only)

No

No

VG
Yahoo
Messenger

free

VG

F

G

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

G
AIM
Video IM
 
free

VG

F

G

No

No

No

Yes

G

* Plus: recommended cameras Logitech QuickCam Pro 4000 ($100) or Apple iSight Cam ($150) — both with 640 x 480 pixel resolution
** VidiTel also features sidebar Instant Messaging capability

None of them offers all the functionality I said we need in SVP, but they are getting close. Top-rated VidiTel even has sidebar instant messaging capability while you’re videoconferencing, and allows you to see (but not manipulate) shared documents in a separate window. It’s expensive, though, and not compatible with other systems, so it needs Microsoft, IBM/Lotus, Google, Yahoo or AOL adopt it.

SightSpeed has the highest rated video quality, and is free for the first 10 minutes per day and the first 100 minutes per month (after that a flat $30/month flat fee kicks in), but it lacks the bells and whistles to collaborate, and, like VidiTel, isn’t compatible with other systems. Same problem with third-rated VibePhone. And the Apple iChat, with iSight camera, has great picture quality but only communicates with PCs only through AIM Video IM (SightSpeed works with both Windows and Macs). So much for single-standard, open-source development and ubiquity.

So then you work your way down to the IM add-ons: MSN’s, Yahoo’s, and the new AIM videoconferencing functionality. These are all free extensions of their respective free IM applications, which most people have on their machines, so anyone with a webcam can converse with you. And some of them have multi-person conferencing, app sharing and white board capability. But these three products have only fair video quality, a critical constraint. But I would guess it’s only a matter of time before these services, in the one-upmanship battle, will offer Sykpe-quality VoIP audio and much better video quality as well. Then watch these tools take off, initially as a means for free long-distance family and friend chats, and then as a new business medium, starting with small business and working their way up.

The few reader assessments of these services I could find seem to be all over the map. Anyone tried any of them out and have any comments?

Here’s my plan: I’m going to buy a decent webcam this weekend, configure it to work with all three free IM services, and also subscribe to SightSpeed and stay under the 10 min/day free use limit, just to see what difference the superior video really makes. Then, for anyone interested in trying out some of these services with me, I’ll publish all my contact info Monday.

Be seeing you.

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