ooVoo adds screen sharing, free conference calling
Video conferencing service ooVoo gets some handy features that business users might like, despite its consumer-oriented roots.
Remember ooVoo, that iChat-like video conferencing and chat tool we took a look at back in June? Today they've launched a new version that has got a handful of useful, powerful tools that make it a viable alternative for small workgroups using conference calls and screen-sharing applications, such as WebEx.
First up is a new recording feature that lets users tape video chats with other participants. Since the video and audio are being recorded to the hard drive, the only time limit is how much free space the computer has. In testing, I managed to get a nearly 15 minute, four-way video conversation down to 95 MB file. The application took about 10 minutes to convert my conversation into workable FLV file that was at a full 1MB/S quality. It can also step it down to 256kb/s or 512kb/s if the file needs to be smaller.
The other really useful feature is a new conference calling tool that gives host and participants a landline number to call. Other ooVoo users who call this conference line get plugged right into the audio that's a part of the video chat, and just like the video recordings, this audio gets archived too. The new call in lines support up to six people, meaning users can have up to a dozen participants--including those on the video side. The call in service is free this month, but it is moving to a by-the-minute model in March.
Besides the video recording, the other new feature that I think people are going to like is an optional piece of software that's a companion for ooVoo's video player. The companion has two main uses. The first is a screen sharing application that lets users show off an entire screen, or certain zoom levels, to other video chat participants. Users can also drop media files, such as music, pictures, or video into the stream for other users to view. Secondly, it's got a built-in facial overlay tool, like Fix8, that applies digital overlays either to users faces or to replace backgrounds. It's great fun.
OoVoo's creators let me in on some upcoming features planned for later this year. One is a more fleshed out API to let developers build in their own applications that work with the data from ooVoo's servers. The current API allows for widgets, but the creators are hoping to give developers more data to play with. Also coming is an updated version for the Mac, which is currently about six months behind in features from its PC counterpart. The team is hoping to close that gap within a year's time to get both versions on the same release schedule. Higher quality "HD" video streams are also on the way, but there's not a time frame for that.
My two remaining qualms with the service are the audio quality, which I found to sound to be a little too compressed. Although to its defense, I don't think any of our participants were using microphones that cost more than $20. There was also about a second or more delay, which can throw a wrench in the gears of trying to have a heated debate with 12 participants. Also to the applications defense, I've only used it a handful of times with users across the country. Using it for in-office conversations may get better results.
OoVoo is a free download. Grab it at CNET Download.com.