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The Best Voice/Video Conferencing Solution Around ?「どィャカ And It's Free!
Benjamin J. Higginbotham
On May 24, 2006 SightSpeed introduced version 4.6 of their video conferencing solution and I must say that I was blown away. I have been patiently waiting for a video solution with quality as good as, if not better, than Apple's iChat AV which would also work cross-platform and be easy to use. Finally SightSpeed has come to the rescue.

My first hope for a cross-platform solution with great video was Skype. Alas, Skype seems to be lagging greatly when it comes to unified features. Skype for Windows has a lot of nifty stuff; they are even up to version 2.5 with a slew of new beta features. The Mac OS X version is stuck at 1.4 with chat and voice calling (although it is finally a Universal App). Only the Windows XP version of Skype has video and even that video support is a bit lackluster.

My next hope was with the Gizmo Project, but my plea for video support along with SMB VoIP support seems to have fallen on deaf ears. I still have a bit of hope for Gizmo as they are based entirely on open standards and that gives them a huge advantage over everyone else, but today they are just another VoIP provider. There's MSN Messenger, but the video support there is temperamental and not cross-platform. There's iChat AV linked to AIM, but the video is just awful when using it cross-platform. The best solution I ever found was Apple's own iChat AV to iChat AV on two or more very powerful Macintosh systems. That is, it *was* the best solution, until today.

SightSpeed allows PC-to-PC video/voice calls (VVoIP) for free and PC-to-PSTN (standard analog phone) calls for a reasonable rate just like Skype. Where SightSpeed differs from Skype is not only the fact that their Mac and PC versions have feature parity, but the video quality is stunning for lower bitrates. To put this into perspective, Skype does not even have feature parity between XP and 2000 let alone cross-platform, video is only supported between Windows XP to Windows XP, and the video quality is about half of that of SightSpeed at the same if not larger bitrates.



Apple introduced iChat AV in June 2004 with multi-party support allowing mere mortals to set up a 4-way video conference call. This requires pretty beefy systems on all sides for it to work right and it's only supported Mac to Mac. SightSpeed also has multi-party conferencing, although it's a bit different. The CPU requirements for SightSpeed are a lot lower than that of iChat and, unlike iChat, it works cross-platform. To get multi-party conferencing in SightSpeed one must buy a pro account. The pro account is $4.95 a month or $49.95 a year. Only the user initiating the multi-party conference needs to be a pro user, all the other users can be the basic free accounts. One thing missing from multi-party conferences is the ability to set one up on the fly. If I'm chatting with a friend trying to set up plans for the weekend and want to bring in another friend, I must first hang up the call, then initiate a multi-party conference. Apple's iChat AV allows me to add callers on the fly as well as remove them, which makes the process much more seamless. This lack of on-the-fly support is a minor annoyance, but it would still be nice if the functionality was there in SightSpeed.


The new SightSpeed beta CODEC is not h.264 or On2's VP7 as I had originally thought. Instead they opted for the older h.263 CODEC, although I'm not sure if it's h.263, h.263+ or h.263 2000 that they implemented. I'm a little disappointed that SightSpeed did not opt for the newer and sexier h.264 but I do understand that CPU requirements for h.264 are very high and that CODEC is still in its infancy. The original SightSpeed CODEC is nice, but it's nowhere near as good as the new beta CODEC that they have implemented. If you're going to download and try it out, make sure to select the beta CODEC from the 'Optional Settings' section or you'll be working with video quality along the lines of every other conferencing system out there.

To put everything into perspective I have created a grid of the top few video conferencing solutions out there. I was going to include WengoPhone in the mix as well, but I have been unable to test the solution as of yet due to technical problems. I also have not yet tested Yahoo messenger since I don't know anyone on it and I don't believe it supports audio and video calls, it's more of a VoIP call with the ability to look at a webcam.



SightSpeed

iChat AV

MSN

AIM

Skype

Video Support

Yes, cross-platform

Yes, Mac-to-Mac for full support

Yes, XP-to-XP only

Yes, cross-platform

Yes, XP-to-XP only.

Audio Support

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

PSTN outbound calls

Yes

No

Beta

Yes

Yes

PSTN inbound calls

No (forthcoming)

No

Unknown status

Beta

Yes

Video CODEC

h.263 in beta

h.264 Mac-to-Mac, unknown Mac-to-PC

Mimic

Unknown

On2 TrueMotion VP7

Platform Feature Parity

Yes

No

No

No

No

Text Chat

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Mutli-Party calls

Audio and Video

Audio and Video

Audio

Audio

Audio

Voicemail

Audio and Video

No

Audio

Audio

Audio

The next stage in the voice and video communication options is adding business class rules. Skype and SightSpeed are great for consumer to consumer, but they really fall down in the small to medium sized business (SMB). It would be fantastic to see one of these companies run with some basic SMB functionality such as call blast, find me/follow me, call parking, call transfers and automated attendant. Imagine a SightSpeed running where I could call the 'Technology Evangelist Receptionist' and they could then forward my call to the proper person, send me to voice mail or put me on hold until what I'm looking for is found. That call could be a PSTN-to-VoIP call or a VoIP/VVoIP call-to-VoIP/VVoIP call. Add another layer for application sharing and support options, now we have something that could rival Cisco's CallManager suite for a fraction of the price and none of the headache. I believe this will be the natural evolution of the product. I don't know what SightSpeed has planned, but I do know that they have been able to do a lot of things that Skype has not been able to, and they seem more agile than the bigger players. I would bet that either SightSpeed or Gizmo project will hit the Holy Grail first.

If you're looking for a conferencing solution or if you just enjoy cool technology, make sure to download SightSpeed, then drop me a line! My SightSpeed ID is benjaminhigginbotham@technologyevangelist.com Do you know of a better solution that I missed? Have any ideas on how to fill in the missing information in the above grid? Please let us know in comments!




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Comments

1. Posted by: Jim Van Wyck on June 7, 2006 11:00 AM:

Dear Benjamin,

Thanks for the great "take" on Sightspeed.

I am currently using, and recording video conferences
on iChat. We then edit and post them to our training website.

Do you know any simple way to record the Sightspeed conferences?

Thanks,
Jim




2. Posted by: Benjamin Higginbotham on June 16, 2006 12:03 AM:

Alas, no I have not found a great way to record a SightSpeed conference. I have tried a number of methods inclusing screen capture, but these eat away at the CPU and both applications suffer.




3. Posted by: Zohar on June 29, 2006 1:15 PM:

For a long time I've been looking for a software that will allow video chat between the platforms, while waiting for too long a time for Skype and MSN to add the video feature on a mac, or for mac to opt out iChat for windows. I used it with AIM but it was a big disappointment. Now I think that I've found what I'm looking for. The problem is to convince all those new Skype enthusiasts (on a PC, ie. with video) to try this new software.
Hope its going to be good.
Thou its a shame for the charge over the conference video calls.




4. Posted by: Tom on October 6, 2006 11:50 PM:

How about iVisit? http://www.ivisit.com




5. Posted by: Ant on October 15, 2006 6:04 PM:

Any PC H.264 video chat software?




6. Posted by: Leon on November 2, 2006 2:32 AM:

What about Zoomcall.com ?
Their codec is near H.264 quality, but eats less CPU




7. Posted by: Jerry Williams on February 27, 2007 11:06 PM:

I would like for you to check out another site to give your views on it also
voice video conference room




8. Posted by: bobe_logan on May 31, 2007 7:06 AM:

this very useful for every where for people, its mike and microphone




9. Posted by: steve mcMahon on August 18, 2007 3:43 AM:

That's really a smart and quick sloution for video Conferencing, without much efforts and time.
http://www.sony-conferencing.com/




10. Posted by: ladyfaa on February 12, 2008 10:46 PM:

apart from mic and speaker ,video conferencing is the best revolution around the place where we live and work.




11. Posted by: Alley on March 13, 2008 5:00 AM:

Earlier I have been in a soup when my sightspeed software stops working during the access process to test webcam (306spca561a webcam which do works fine with my www.rhubcom.com Turbomeeting). Later on I go for updates to finally get it going. Good product .




12. Posted by: John Burke on June 11, 2008 1:43 PM:

I wanted to write in and let you know I am client of MegaMeeting. They are completely browser based and they allow up to 16 videos up at one time in each room. You can even have multiple rooms at the same time, which is great for educational or business type needs. I have been using them from about 6 months and found there customer support is amazing and they will even train you on how to use the system which makes it easy and fun to use. I would suggest you check them out if you need video conferencing for anything. My reps name is Matt McClure and he has done great in making this simple and easy.
MEGAMEETING

Enjoy!
John Burke




13. Posted by: live conferencing on July 19, 2008 1:38 AM:

I am glad to post my views and points in this blog, but I must say that webmaster of this blog has done a very great job to make his blog more informative and more discussable but unfortunately everything is same here that more than 80% in this and other blogs post their comments for making spam!!!, so i will really all this spam links to google band tool, because webmaster makes blogs for making discuss and for sloving each other problems.
thanks




14. Posted by: Matti Koukka on August 14, 2008 11:53 PM:

Hi experts,

do you know how these SMB-solutions work internationally? Let's say between continents? I'm shopping a Web-conference/web-video-conference/webinar -solution and since we're based in Finland, we need to get one that can offer support during our daytime.

Matti Koukka
Finland




15. Posted by: Mustafa Iqbal Naviwala on October 23, 2008 12:27 AM:

Hey... Thats a great solution ....

Video conferencing is a source of reducing travel expenses and quick communication.




16. Posted by: Video-conference on October 27, 2008 7:37 AM:

Hey... Thats a great solution ....

Video conferencing is a source of reducing travel expenses and quick communication.




17. Posted by: Benefits of Video Conferencing on February 9, 2009 1:37 AM:

The first time when I used the video conferencing I was really nervous about how do I look or how do I speak through the equipment, but it was a great feeling.




18. Posted by: Video Conferencing on September 16, 2009 12:01 AM:

Video conferencing , video calling , video chat proved beneficial for my office, the process to communicate and interact across boundaries have changed , hence modern equipments have changed the work flows .




19. Posted by: Video conference on September 29, 2009 10:28 PM:

You could also use office video conferencing technology to consult with outside staff who share your interests, to even to conduct interviews with potential job candidates .




20. Posted by: PresentAll on May 14, 2010 3:35 AM:

Have you checked out PresentAll - web video conferencing service for web conferencing?

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

wbr,
PresentAll Team




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