Since the rise of overseas outsourcing, video conferencing has been a popular way to do business with remote employees. Now, companies that make video chatting their primary business are making it easier for engineers to work with remote teammates.
Typically aimed at casual chatters, these applications offer features like six-way video chat that could facilitate long-distance collaboration. And two companies are upping the bar for video chatting—SightSpeed and ooVoo.
“In many instant messaging (IM) products, video is an afterthought,” said Philippe Schwartz, CEO of ooVoo, which was launched in June 2007. “We make video a central part of the experience.”
Users of ooVoo can see six colleagues at once, enabling an internationally scattered team to work together in real time for free (Fig. 1). While one-on-one video chat is free for SightSpeed users, the company charges $9.95 per month to enable up to four team members to work together.
Both companies make it incredibly simple to start video chatting immediately. Users are up and running within minutes of downloading the 6-Mbyte SightSpeed or the 8-Mbyte ooVoo.
Signing in to either is like signing in to any chat service, with a username and password. SightSpeed displays your real-time mug, while in ooVoo, you have to test the webcam to make sure you don’t have bed-head. When you’re ready, you can see and speak with your colleague in India as clearly as you can with your cube-mate (Fig. 2).
Streaming video and audio quality is decent among all versions, with only a few hiccups in transmission. Sight- Speed clocks in at a constant 30 fps while Schwartz said ooVoo switches between 15 and 30 fps, depending on the availability of bandwidth.
“What can you do when you get into a situation where bandwidth is not there?” Schwartz asked regarding the program’s switching ability. “We wanted to create an architecture that is flexible to adapt to those situations.”
Other video chat companies like CamFrog and Talkvue also are looking to grab a piece of the market, so competition can be fierce. OoVoo’s free sixway chat is one way to distinguish itself from competitors, as is its video message e-mailing.
A user can record a clip and send it to anyone, ooVoo user or not, as it will be played via flash on a Web site. SightSpeed limits video e-mails to 30 seconds unless users subscribe to the paid package. A sleek black interface also makes ooVoo a bit more hip than the other chat services. Its only downfall is that the company hasn’t yet released a version for Mac, though Schwartz says that’s on the way. With the likes of SightSpeed and Skype, PC and Mac users can communicate seamlessly.
Other IM services now feature video chatting, including Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and AIM. Mac users have the ease of turning on iChat for face-to-face conversations. Even Skype, which is known for its Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calling, lets webcam users make video calls. For scattered design teams, all of these services have made collaboration much easier.