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Best Video Conferencing Solution For PCs And Macs: SightSpeed
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.
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.
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.
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 (in SightSpeed) 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.
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.
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 email@example.com
Do you know of a better solution that I missed?
Original article written by Benjamin Higginbotham and entitled
"The Best Voice/Video Conferencing Solution Around ... And It's Free!"
published on May 31st 2006 on Technology Evangelist.
Benjamin J. Higginbotham -
Reference: Technology Evangelist [ Read more ]