MasterNewMedia
Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi
 


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Video Conferencing As It Should Be: Multi-Party, Affordable, Cross-Platform - The Video Conversation Starter Is Here - OoVoo

OoVoo is a new free videoconferencing solution that works across PCs and Macs (Linux version coming) and which allows up to six participants in a video call, as well as recording, text chat, direct file sharing and a lot more.

OoVoo-VideoCall-400.jpg

In general, OoVoo is rather easy to use as it mimics many Skype interface conventions, icons and tools. So, for those who already use Skype, OoVoo feels right away not too intimidating. There are yes a lot of other buttons and functions but the basic operations can be learned quite rapidly without the need to read a manual.

Videoconferencing quality is also good, and at least on a par with Skype (which only allows two people per video conversation) if not altogether better. The viewing interface is also effective, with clear name labels above each participant window and an overall layout which organizes all conferencing participants in an automatic way.รน

This new video conferencing technology from OoVoo is not launching today and it has been available for over six months already, just enough time to make it ready for prime time and for a full review.


Video recording of my first OoVoo session during last Friday MyOoVooDay session run with Lasse and Phil Shapiro




OoVoo Overview

OoVoo is a cross-platform downloadable videoconferencing software that provides Skype-like features optimized around the use of video as the main channel of communication. OoVoo integrates VoIP, text chat and the ability to send files to any other videoconferencing attendee as well as good invitation, contacts management and recording features.

OoVoo can accomodate up to six live participants in a video conferencing session, all of which have access to all OoVoo's videoconferencing features.

Particularly good is the quality of the videoconferencing and the ability to have up to six people video communicating on screen without the need to have a special high-bandwidth line. OoVoo optimizes the videoconference bandwidth needs to remain within the confines of an average ADSL line (768/256Kbps) and it clearly does succeed at this.

The interface, nonetheless designed to provide maximum friendliness, ease of use (by picking up many of Skype's well established user interface conventions) and an icon-rich environment, has still lots of margin of improvement. There are too many things visible that are not laid out in an orderly way, and use of icon and graphics that need to be simplified and better organized.



Key Features

OoVoo key features revolve around real-time communication with audio, video and the ability to share files and documents easily. In this respect OoVoo is very much on focus and not trying to do too many things that would place it in direct competition with other conferencing and collaboration tools.

These include:

  • Multi-party videoconferencing
  • Videoconference recording
  • Cross-platform (PC and Mac) support
  • File sending among attendees
  • Text chat
  • Video messaging
  • Free calls to US and Canada landlines and mobile phones
  • Invitation capabilities
  • Contacts management
  • Moderation tools

Here below a panoramic overview of some of these key features with details about their operativity and functionality.



Video Conferencing

OoVoo-video-call-notification.jpg

When it comes to videoconferencing, OoVoo delivers quite good results. The interface is effective, and the quality of each video stream is more than acceptable. Lots of this has to do with the quality of your bandwidth connection as well as with the type of webcam you are using, but as far as I did see in my several tests last week, OoVoo does its part more than diligently.



Video Recording


Video recording of a OoVoo video conferencing session, saved as a .FLV and then uploaded to Blip.tv

Notable is the well executed integration of a video recording feature which records the full OoVoo videoconferencing interface and both video and audio tracks for all participants attending. The recording is saved on your hard disk and it is processed in the background right after you end the session, to be converted into a .FLV file which can be easily uploaded to any major video sharing site. You can also set video recording quality by selecting one among few different bandwidth levels.



File Sharing

OoVoo-SendFiles-o.jpg

During any OoVoo videoconferencing session, you can easily send as many files as you like, up to 25MB in size to your other meeting partners. The procedure is simple and very straightforward. You click the send file button, select the file(s) to be sent and decide who you want to send it to. Right after that the file is sent directly to each one of the selected participants directly without going through any intermediate step. Multiple files can be sent at once (actually, up to 20 files at a time) to as many contactst as you want. A dialog box shows the progress of the transfer as it happens. Very effective. Last but not least you can even send files to contacts who are offline as the files sent will be delivered to them at their next logon.



Text Chat

oovoo-tex-chat.jpg

A fully featured text chat facility is also included inside OoVoo, integrating font formatting, auto-URL for links, and select/copy/paste functionality. Unfortunately there is no message history, no way of saving text chat transcripts and text messages do not even have temporary memory as they disappear even if you open and close the text chat window. These are no major drawbacks, but certainly areas to be looked into to close the gap with Skype users expectations.



Video Messaging

OoVoo-record-video-message-o.jpg

The OoVoo video messaging feature is simple as well as very powerful and effective to use. You can record a one minute video message that you can send directly to any OoVoo contact you have. The cool thing is that you can easily add as many contacts as you want by dragging and dropping their icon/ names into the recipients list. In this way you can easily send a video message directly to a quite large group of individuals very easily. Within a social network, having the ability to easily broadcast a message to all of your selected contacts, is quite a feature (as long as you don't abuse of it).

Video messages can also be saved as DivX / MP3 recordings in your favorite folder.

The coolest feature on this front is an email notification option which allows any OoVoo user to receive directly in her inbox a message each time a new incoming video OoVoo message is awaiting.



Free Phone Calls to the US and Canada

OoVoo-free-phone-calls.gif

It is possible to make charge-free calls from ooVoo to a landline or mobile phone in the USA or Canada. I have tested this feature and it does work as advertised. No credit card is required to set this up and there is no special setup to do to make it work. Just input the number you want to call in North America and you will be connected to it in no time at all.

A nice addition to this already valuable offer is that you can also add phone participants in the US to your ooVoo video calls. In this introductory period OoVoo provides up to 120 minutes of FREE phone calls through March 1, 2008.



Inviting / Importing Contacts

The contacts invitation facility inside OoVoo provides the ability to invite contacts via either an email or a video message. To create your contacts list OoVoo allows you to import all of your contacts from some of the major email applications and services including Outlook, Gmail, AOL, Yahoo and Hotmail. It is also possible to import contacts you have collected on LinkedIn, Windows Live Messenger, ICQMail, MacMail, Mail.com and on Lycos Mail. (Of all contacts lists on my computer the one that I would have wanted to import the most, wasn't among the possible options: My Skype buddy list. To make things worse, each time I tried to import my Gmail contacts OoVoo crashed with an error. )

OoVoo-invite-new-contacts.jpg



Additional Features

Video Special Effects

OoVoo has partnered with WebcamMax to provide full integration between the video and webcam effects provided by this nifty utility (which I recommend everyone) and OoVoo itself.



Video, Camera and Microphone Controls

OoVoo provides full and direct control of both your webcam and microphone allowing you to easily set camera and mike inputs (if you have more than one device attached to your computer), volume, device settings (for your webcam) and muting for either one.



Video Messages and Calls History

OoVoo-video-messages-history.jpg

All video messages and calls are tracked and made accessible as a well organized list inside the Video Messages History, Call History and Files Received History sections, all accessible via direct button on the main OoVoo interface.



Sidebar View

OoVoo-SidebarView-500.jpg

Video calls can be viewed in Standard View or Sidebar View, giving you viewing flexibility, depending on your desktop tasks. Enable Sidebar View when you have documents or other tasks you want to see on your desktop during a video call. Enable Standard View mode when you want to see your call participants bigger.



Badges and Social Marketing - OoVoo Me Link

ooVooLink-page-320.jpg

Want to make it easy for others to contact you?

Put your ooVoo link on your blog, inside your forum or community page, on your Facebook page, or in your email signature. These the immediate benefits:

  • Contacts can easily click-to-call you directly from your ooVoo me link.
  • Privacy options allow you to decide always who can ooVoo you.

Once registered on OoVoo, to get yours go to: http://www.oovoo.com//world/yourvideo.aspx

Here is mine:




Ringtone Selection

Like with most voice communication devices today, OoVoo allows you to fully personalize the sounds it makes and also the main ringtone by simply changing and editing the "Sounds" section inside the Settings dialog box.



Video conference snapshot capture

OoVoo-snapshot-capture.jpg

OoVoo provides a very handy "digital camera" to be used inside any videoconferencing session to capture you and your other participants faces. Just click the Snapshot button whenever inside a video conferencing session and a digital photograph of the session will be immediately saved to your hard disk in JPG format.



There would be in fact more to say about OoVoo features as there is a lot more inside this tool than what meets the eye at first. I for now limit myself to the above features which are in my opinion the most important and relevant to understand the potential and capabilities of this video conferencing tool.



Interface and Usability

While OoVoo looks cool and well designed to most new users I have talked to, I have strong personal feelings with the overall user interface and its present usability level.

While wanting to clearly resemble and pick-up many of the user interface conventions introduced by Skype, OoVoo fails to do so in a consistent way. OoVoo falls short on the design of key components like the main contacts list and in the excessive number and complexity of the icon and controls above it.

Nested sub-menus sometimes grow way too deep and complex to really provide a seamless experience to the user or the lack of immediacy in opening a text chat window with any visible contact. Nonetheless its many positive assets OoVoo needs to improve significantly on this front if it wants to reach adoption levels worth of any serious possible business model.

In general I strongly feel that OoVoo has a tremendous window of opportunity if it can further streamline and clean up its act, before Skype comes out with its own multi-party video conferencing solution or Google launches its own one. The time is ripe but one needs to act rapidly and effectively.



To Be Improved

Video Recording Formats and Options
On its site OoVoo promotes the ability to save as video recordings as AVI or as embeddable widget code to be used to republish the video on any site. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find a way to access such options and all my recordings have been automatically encoded as FLV files. Making it easier to for us to upload and publish to key video distribution services (TubeMogul, HeySpread) or providing an embeddable code to place a widget of a recorded OoVoo video session on the web would be absolutely great additions to this powerful social and business networking tool.

Maximum file size for sharing
25MB files sending is ridiculous. Considering that files need not be kept on any server for more than 48 hours, and the fact that there are more and more services and tools that allow you to send files as large as 1GB or more, this is really anachronistic (especially when on the OoVoo pages you read "...Have you ever had problems sending a large email attachment? With ooVoo you can send large files to your contacts anytime." .... Come on guys!)

Text chat memory and saving
Unfortunately OoVoo does not remember your presence status between sessions. Text chat messages are forgotten even if you close and re-open the text chat window during a live session. There is also no way to save a text chat transcript or to look past exchanges with individual contacts like it is possible inside Skype.

Overall usability and interface layout
OoVoo tends to be more complex and difficult to operate than it really needs to be. Especially for non-technical users a simplified and more refined interface would certainly provide for an even richer and more enjoyable user experience. The idea to follow in my opinion, is that the user should not be be placed in the condition to see and access every single command he may need at all times, and therefore a scaling down and simplification of what is needed and relevant at any given point should be carefully questioned.



Editor's Comments

Overall OoVoo is a great videoconferencing solution, the one I would use myself right now if I had to run a multi-party videoconference with the minimum hassle, the lowest cost and best quality and performance.

Yes there are other good low-cost or free videoconferencing tools out there, some of which I do like very much, notably SightSpeed, VSee, though in general most other video conferencing solutions either cost a lot more or limit you to two video participants at most (please help me remember other tools which have such capabilities but which I fail to list here - e.g. MeBeam).

Like SightSpeed, Skype and the emergent family of powerful Adobe collaboration tools, OoVoo too wants to be a cross-platform solution even if this requires a full download. I think this is an important positive choice and one that will bear its fruits as times goes by. Though the Mac version has been temporarily taken off the official OoVoo download page I have videoconferenced with more than a few Mac users (who had installd the early Mac beta version) with absolutely no problems at all.

(Don't forget that Google has bought last year videoconferencing solution Marratech (from Sweden) and that it may sooner or later come out with a killer upgrade to the already existing technology. Marratech is very strong in the video conferencing and real-time collaboration aspects and it is architected for small groups of people. Its major drawback was again poor usability and a somewhat clunky interface.)

As OoVoo has implicitly decided to go after Skype user looking for a solution that provides as much ease of use for video communications as Skype does, by picking up many of Skype basic key functions and user interface conventions, this effort has proven to be both a good idea as well as the cause of some disappointment by users. The point is that once you set up to imitate an established standard, either you do better than the original, or your limitations show up as much greater issues than they could really be otherwise.

On the other hand I feel enticed to applaude the OoVoo marketing strategy and campaign which has created quite a buzz around the tool and its early community of adopters. Notable also the very recent MyOoVooDay event which brought together several eminent thought leaders, bloggers and online publishers to talk about their favorite topics inside a large number of private videoconferencing rooms offered by OoVoo.

OoVoo is a video conversation starter and one great tool to hold impromptu professional video conferencing meetings online.



System Requirements

  • Pentium 4 1Ghz with 256MB of RAM

  • 20MB Hard disk space
  • Webcam and Headset
  • Broadband connection (Cable, DSL etc..)
  • Microsoft Windows 2000, XP or Vista

Mac version coming very soon. To be notified when the Mac version becomes available go to the OoVoo Support Center and send a support request with the subject line: Mac Request.

OoVoo Support Center

Download OoVoo now.



Technical Support

A great set of illustrated text tutorials is available in the main OoVoo Help area.

I particularly advise non-tech users to check first:

Getting Started

The OoVoo Official Video Tutorial

OoVoo FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

Video Quality Optimization Tips

Full online OoVoo Help Documentation

Recommended.




Recent related resources:




Originally written by for Master New Media and first published on February 19th 2008 as "Video Conferencing As It Should Be: Multi-Party, Affordable, Cross-Platform - The Video Conversation Starter Is Here - OoVoo"

 
 
 
Readers' Comments    
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posted by Robin Good on Thursday, February 21 2008, updated on Friday, February 26 2010


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