Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi
 


Monday, March 5, 2007

Video Conferencing: P2P Solution From VSee Launches New Free Full Collaboration Version

Video conferencing: A much improved version of VSee videoconferencing solution launches today, bringing this very promising and talented video conferencing solution ahead of its key few competitors. The new video conferencing solution by VSee not only sports an outstanding full web conferencing feature-set paired by great usability and solid performance, but it also follows on the success track of other "2.0" companies by introducing free high-quality multi-party video conferencing for everyone at cost zero.

vsee_videoconference_Robin-Milton-Chen-0.jpg
Robin Good chats to Milton Chen over VSee

Thanks to VSee Milton Chen, me and Michael Pick have been invited a few days ago to test their new video conferencing technology and, while we were not new to it, what we saw left us very impressed.

Thanks to VSee new video conferencing service it is in fact now possible to make use of powerful video conferencing, application / screen sharing, co-browsing, text chat and full recording capabilities without having to pay anything.

In full Web 2.0 spirit, VSee smartly chooses to use individuals like me and you to be their best product development specialists and marketing agents. By letting individuals have full free access to such groundbreaking technology, VSee secures for itself lots of valuable feedback for further improving their great tool as well as a growing army of unstoppable marketing agents who will likely take the new technology inside the companies where they work.

Robin Good's regulars might well remember that we have been spending positive words for this company in non-suspect times, as already a year ago we wrote that VSee was emerging as a serious contender in the online collaboration marketplace. Check Robin's Kolabora review of the VSee and the subsequent interview with VSee's CTO Milton Chen. But while at the time VSee was strategically positioned to address almost exclusively large multi-national corporations, all of that changes today.

From this moment forth anyone wishing to make use of VSee full audio- and video-conferencing abilities, application-, file-sharing, text chat and co-browsing features can do so in both home-to-home and and within-the-firewall settings at absolutely zero cost. Yes: if you wanted to leverage VSee as an internal communication tool in your company, or use it as a consumer, you no longer have to pay for a subscription of any kind.

If you are running a Windows PC, you can simply head over to the VSee website, make a small download and be up and video-conferencing in the space of a couple of minutes.

The business model is based on having enterprise users pay for inter-business calls (again video conferencing within the firewall is fully free to them) at a very reasonable per-user monthly subscription fee. Further, enterprise customers can purchase technical support, or choose to buy a VSee license and install the video conferencing software solution on their own servers.

In this full review of the new VSee:

  • The options available to businesses looking to take advantage of VSee paid services
  • Powerful file-sharing capabilities, which include the ability to drag and drop any and all files up to 2GB in size between users
  • A video sharing tool, which has Tivo-like control functionality
  • High-quality VoIP audio which now matches the 16 kHz sample rate offered by Skype
  • A raft of other features including true Internet co-browsing, an animated laser pointer, network monitoring, video and audio recording and toolbar integration



VSee - features at a glance

vsee_logo.jpg

Given that you can use Skype for free and still swap files, and chat with face-to-face video, why would you want to switch to VSee for making your video calls?

There are a number of good reasons that put VSee in a different league.

One of VSee strongest selling points is that what you get as a home-to-home user, or business-user making inside-the-company calls is exactly the same functionality you would get as a corporate customer who bought the full license for its 500 hundred employees.

Here some of the other VSee winning key features:

  • Low-bandwidth, high quality video - VSee manages to squeeze great-looking, crystal-clear video into its 320 x 240 window
  • Skype-grade VoIP audio quality - VSee holds its own against Skype wide-band, 16 kHz sample rate audio, matching its great-looking video conferencing quality high-quality audio
  • Full text chat - VSee integrates a fully functional text chat facility that allows both for private and public exchange.
  • Full application-sharing letting you share control of any application or document you have open on your screen with your VSee meeting partners, regardless of whether they have the same application installed on their PCs
  • Drag-and-drop file-sharing supporting any file type up to a whopping 2GB in size. You simply drag any file on the video window of one of your VSee session participants and the file gets immediately sent to that person.
  • Internet co-browsing that allows users to surf the web together, and even annotate it as they go
  • Remote synchronized online video viewing allowing you to freeze-frame, fast-forward and rewind your video in real-time as you share it with other session attendees
  • Toolbar-based command center, allowing you to launch and monitor your video conferencing sessions directly from your desktop, without having to visit the VSee website
  • Full video and audio recording to catalog and archive all of your VSee sessions
  • Always-on live "video pointer' that can be used to point, and indicate specific areas on your video screen, or on the of any other user



VSee new business model

VSee new business model is being launched as you read these very words. Here the exact details of the new free service, and the paid options available to corporate customers wanting to bring this new technology inside their firewall.



The free option

freeoption.jpg
Photo credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki

You can use VSee without paying a cent under the following two circumstances:

  • You are a home user making personal calls to another home user or users. The only limitations on how many people can be in a session at any one time are those imposed by your bandwidth. If you have a 1 Mbps connection, in theory you should be able to have up to ten concurrent users in a conference, and not one of them will pay a thing
  • You are a business user making calls within your own company. If you want to use VSee to foster communication and collaboration within your company, whether that be a company of three people or 100, 000 people, VSee will not charge you a thing

VSee is the first video conferencing company to allow unlimited free use of such powerful conferencing technology within companies. Other competing solutions either limit the number of concurrent users allowed or the functionality set available in the free version.

Sure, big companies are going to want to place also business-to-business calls, but there are also plenty of potentially valuable applications and uses in which VSee can prove all ot is value within the firewall.



Three paid options

paidoptions.jpg
Photo credit: Bora Ucak

As there companies which want greater control, reliable customer support and the ability to use VSee as a business-to-business communication tool without having to incur astronomical costs, VSee has chosen to offer three distinct options to such enterprise users:

  1. Company to company video conferencing - making video conferencing session calls between companies costs a flat subscription rate of $39 per concurrent user per month. This doesn't mean, however, that if your company has one thousand members you have to buy one thousand subscriptions. If, for example, you might have fifty people out of a thousand making outgoing, external calls at any one time, you purchase fifty subscriptions and can then share those subscriptions between the people in your company.

    Each subscription covers anybody that you might call - even if the recipient does not have their own subscription. Furthermore, anyone can call you without having to pay for doing so - your subscription holds for both making and receiving calls.

  2. Paid technical support - any company can use VSee for free, but they can opt in to making use of VSee technical support should they need to. Many companies may likely use this option for initial training in how to use the service, or to train some in-house IT-staff on the key issues of maintenance and troubleshooting when making this technology available to a large number of users. Either way, support is priced at $150 per hour
  3. Internal deployment of VSee on corporate servers - For companies it is also possible to run the VSee video conferencing and collaboration server on their own infrastructure by purchasing a one-time license to VSee technology.

    License pricing is largely based on the total number of end users. As such VSee is able to offer an immediate direct quote depending upon the specific needs of your company. For smaller, SOHO and SME scale companies, the one-time licensing cost per concurrent user is $99.

    Maintenance costs which integrate tech support, updates and maintenance are optional, and cost 18% of the one-time license fee (for each year you want to receive them).






Audio and video capabilities

What I must say right away, is that under decent network conditions, VSee video conferencing abilities are rather outstanding.

In my personal testing of VSee I saw no evidence of latency - there were no moments of video lag, lip-sync remained consistent, and video artifacts were nowhere to be seen.

The fully floating and resizable 340 x 240 VSee video windows, can be dragged anywhere on screen, paired and moved together automatically and offer a very good level of video quality even when resized to much larger dimensions.

Given that VSee is the only video conferencing company that manages to squeeze such high quality video streams into a mere 100 Kbps of bandwidth, you can imagine the potential for being a truly disruptive new communication and collaboration tool.

Newly added is the equally impressive wide-band audio that is sampled at 16 kHz. To give you an idea of quality, this is the same sample rate used in Skype calls, and in fact during our testing there was little noticeable difference between the two.

VSee is perfectly capable of making use of Skype audio, should you wish to use the two in conjunction. The advantage of switching over wholly to VSee is in the fact that VSee offers much greater security protection than it is possible with Skype.

For enterprise users this is essential, and Skype has not been faring too well when it comes to acceptance inside large companies as its security limitations and the way that Skype makes use of 'super nodes' to distribute bandwidth in its P2P network have made its foray into the business world filled of critics and strong resistance.

VSee video, on the other hand, offers standard or triple AES 256-bit encryption, which will satisfy the most demanding enterprise users' security requirements.

Video and audio can be muted, so that should you need to temporarily take a call, or otherwise say or do something 'off the record' you can make either your voice or video invisible for whatever amount of time is needed. Muted video fades out to black, and while this does the job it would be nice to see the inclusion of a more friendly and greatly more useful freeze-frame capability.





Collaboration features

But what really puts VSee in a whole different league than Skype, besides its superior video quality, are the host of collaboration features that sit firmly at the center of this video conferencing service.

A common, powerful thread among all of them is their accessibility and ease of use. Everything is as simple as it can be, making it easy even for the first-time users to find what to click without needing to read a manual.

VSee presents a minimalist interface that takes up very little screen real-estate, especially when compared to some of its screen-greedy competitors.

All of the collaborative features discussed below are accessible from the main VSee video window, using a simple drop-down menu set that feels immediately intuitive and unambiguous in the terminology it uses.

Here the commands and features it offers:



Application sharing

VSee is built on the premise that online collaboration should be every bit as simple - and as functional - as sitting side-by-side with a colleague and looking at the same screen. Application sharing using VSee basically means that if an application runs on your Windows PC it can be shared with your colleagues.

vsee_appsharing.jpg

Sharing, in this sense, does not simply mean screen-sharing, whereby other users can see what you're doing, but without having access to the application. Any application shared - regardless as to whether all users have it installed on their machine or not - can be controlled by anyone in the meeting.

With other collaboration and conferencing tools usually this means the presenter hands control over to one of the participants, before reclaiming it when needed. This is because many online collaboration services, such as WebEx or GoToMeeting work on a presentation paradigm. While neither are limited to giving presentations, they operate under the assumption that there is a presenter and an audience.

VSee approaches things differently.

VSee is built on the idea that collaboration works best when it is spontaneous and self-managed by the group participants. As such, built into VSee simple application sharing controls, are annotation tools that any number of users can make use of simultaneously, along with a CTRL control button, that can be pressed by any of the participants to take exclusive control of the mouse and of the application being shared.

vsee_appsharing_controls.jpg

This can make for much more effective training, brainstorming and workgroup workout sessions, as different team members quickly add their contributions and pass control along to other meeting attendees with maximum ease. VSee approach to true, direct collaborative work does really make a significant difference when compared to the cumbersome process imposed by other collaborative applications, with the presenter having to repeatedly release and regain control of the presentation podium, screen and other key functions.



File-sharing

vsee_filetransfer-indicato-or.jpg

VSee file-sharing abilities are very straightforward too. With VSee all you have to do is drag any file onto the video window of a meeting attendee, and they will instantly be given the option of saving that file or executable to their very desktop, or to any other location on their PC they may prefer. This drag and drop simplicity dispenses with the need to open multiple dialog boxes just to share a file - like everything else in VSee, streamlining prevails reigns supreme.

Note also, that while many email clients, and services including Skype, will not accept executable .exe files, due to the fear of transmitting viruses unintentionally, VSee places no such limitations on the type of file you can send to other users - if it's on your computer, it is possible to share it with other VSee users.

Unique among direct P2P file-sharing applications VSee allows you to transfer files of up to 2GB in size, (double the capability of Skype). This is an impressive capability, and one that should prove to be particularly valuable to power users and small online publishers needing to transfer rapidly and effectively large files including audio, video and large presentation documents.

VSee, supplements this great facility with a real-time status indicator that reports the transfer progress of any files sent. The simple percentile status indicator appears above the sender's video, as in the screenshot above.



Co-browsing

Another newly added feature allows meeting participants to co-browse the Internet, rather than just watching the presenter browsing alone. All users can again take control of the browsing experience, and it is also possible to annotate web-surfing sessions using the pen and eraser tools, in much the same way that they can be used with application sharing.

This will be of particular interest to those working in online environments, and could be particularly useful to design professionals or online publishers looking to discuss, annotate and even augment online content in real time.



In-Sync Remote Video Viewing

As if the above features were not enough VSee has now added impressive in-sync remote video sharing functionality to its already impressive list of collaboration tools. Video clips can be controlled - in this case by the person sharing, rather than all participants - with fast-forward, rewind and freeze frame features to allow session participants to view, in sync with you, any video clip you may want to review or dicuss together. Video is of a high quality, and in our tests proved to be completely lacking in latency and lag, allowing all team members to view exactly what the host is viewing on her screen, in real time.

vsee_videosharing.jpg

This is an impressive feature indeed, and goes beyond the capability of any typical web collaboration service. The ability to review in-sync video material of all kinds provides indeed a major advantage over competing products while fulfilling a customer need expressed since the longest times among online collaboration users.



Recording

Further to this raft of collaboration tools it is also possible to record the audio and video of your meeting sessions to the AVI file format, which could prove very useful for archival and review purposes. Recording are made locally and saved to your own hard disk for future use.





Additional features

vsee_cpuload-Robin-Good-o.jpg

VSee offers the opportunity to monitor your sessions in a number of ways:

  • The CPU load of your system can be measured using the animated green graph in the screenshot below. This basically tells you how your computer is faring, and will provide a good indication if you are pushing its capabilities too far. This graph can be toggled on and off.
  • Network performance and congestion can also be monitored using either another graph that can be toggled on and off the bottom right corner of your video display, or using a simplified three-bar display like that featured on mobile phones to tell you if you have a good or bad signal
  • A full list of information about your session, including bandwidth usage, can also be viewed in a pop-up window



Desktop integration

vsee_systray.jpg

Where before you needed to visit the VSee website to initiate calls, you can now start calls directly from your desktop, due to VSee integration into your Windows system tray. A small 'V' icon, when right-clicked, will give you a range of options which include:

  • A contacts list / address book from which you can instantly add or call new and existing contacts. It is from here that you can also see their online / offline status
  • A call history, featuring missed calls, contacts you have called, and when, and vice versa
  • The option to open up the previously mentioned network statistics dialog

  • The option to add or remove VSee from your start-up items, so that it can launch automatically each time you boot into Windows



In line with many of the other VSee features the VSee toolbar makes for a streamlined interface, which saves valuable screen space and makes accessing VSee key functions a breeze.

vsee_callhist.jpg

If there is one other small criticism is for the style and look of the network status dialog box, - the use of a courier font on top of a gray background suggests a geeky, temporary rather than permanent feature, while it would be nice to see full integration of this part of the application with the overall clean and simple look of the rest of the tool.



Live annotation

A brief mention is due to the unique trailing video pointer made available by VSee. Appearing as a fluorescent green point leaving a short train behind itself, this live pointing tool can be used by all VSee session participants by simply moving their cursor over their own video, or over that of any another VSee user.

Much like the laser pointers used in live presentations, this is a simple way to point out something on screen. In the example screenshot above, Milton Chen highlights a photograph of his recent hiking trip as he briefly discusses it, and this is one way that the 'laser pointer' can be put effectively to use. Definitely a nice addition to an otherwise well rounded collaboration feature-set.





System requirements

To run VSee you will need the following:

  • A computer running Windows XP, 2K or 98
  • A broadband Internet connection
  • The Internet Explorer or Firefox browser
  • A Firewire, USB or Analog video camera





Conclusions



In short one of the best video conferencing and online collaboration tools just got a whole lot better, and opened itself up to the world with a radical change of business model.

VSee is a powerful video conferencing and online collaboration solution that has seen a lot of improvement in the year since Robin Good last reviewed the service. While then it had the same core features, a lot has been added since. Particularly impressive among the new features available are:

  • VSee matching its great quality, low bandwidth video with high-quality, Skype-like audio
  • True application and browser sharing that allows for fast user switching and instant, multi-user annotation
  • Great looking video sharing with TiVo-like controls including fast-forward, rewind and freeze frame
  • The ability to share files of any type (including the often forbidden .exe), up to a huge 2GB in size using a simple drag and drop interface
  • The ability to record audio and video, and monitor CPU and network performance on the fly

Given that these features are very well integrated and easy to use, and go beyond anything else out there in terms of video and audio quality at low bandwidth use, it is great news indeed that all of this is now available for free.

The growing number of virtual businesses, with their key members scattered in different locations around the country or globe, will find this a great addition to their team collaboration and communication toolkit, especially given that they will not need to pay for it when communicating within their ranks.

For example, geographically-dispersed teams like this very own Robin Good's virtual newsroom from which I operate - whose members are located in at least five countries at any one time - now have a uniquely valuable free tool that goes well beyond what Skype and similar tools have to offer.

It is now possible for users making VSee calls in personal home-to-home and intra-business scenarios to put this powerful tool to use without spending a single cent. On top of this, the new range of paid options still make VSee an appealing option for those looking to use it on their own servers, with technical support and training or as a company-to-company communication and collaboration solution.

Overall, providing your friends or colleagues are all Windows users, VSee is a must-try technology for anyone wanting to do video conferencing and online collaboration on the lowest possible budget and with great ease of use.

Given VSee impressive feature set and decisive shift towards a free business model, I expect this technology to become a well-known and highly respected player in the video conferencing industry rapidly, and would bet a fair amount of money on the superior quality of its feature-set and business model compared to its key contenders.





Additional resources

If you would like to learn more about VSee, you might want to check out the following links:




Recent related resources:



Written by Robin Good and Michael Pick for Master New Media as:
Video Conferencing: P2P Solution From VSee Launches New Free Full Collaboration Version

Robin Good and Michael Pick - [ Read more ]
 
 
 
Readers' Comments    
2007-11-19 21:57:47

milton

hi Kingsley,

we are still working out some issues with VISTA. I am very interested to take a look the issues you experienced and fix them. thanks,

Milton
CEO
vsee id: milton
http://vsee.com



2007-11-19 16:31:26

Kingsley

We're on Vista Enterprise

Tested... Video Quality is okay.

Once it is running, and as soon as you you click on desktop sharing...the video goes wonky.

Still buggy from the looks of it.



2007-03-06 12:10:53

Colin

This is the best program I have ever seen full marks for designing such an excellent piece of work.



 
posted by Michael Pick on Monday, March 5 2007, updated on Friday, February 26 2010


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