With iChat AV Beta, Apple brings one-step video and audio to its still-new instant-messaging tool. In beta form, iChat's performance is spotty, but it's easier to use and configure than the video-enabledand better implemented than the video chat in Yahoo Messenger (both are for Windows only). iChat AV is a pleasure to use while it's free, but Apple plans to charge $29 for it when the current beta expires on December 31, 2003, unless you upgrade to the $129 OS X 10.3 Panther. Using it also requires either a free AOL Instant Messenger account; a free, iChat-only .Mac screen name; or a $99 per-year .Mac account. Toss in Apple's new $149 iSight FireWire camera (which isn't specifically required, although some brand of FireWire cam is), and iChat AV is starting to look like an expensive corporate tool.
If only all installations were this simple. To install iChat AV, simply download the program (the biggest annoyance here is Apple's insistence that you provide your first and last name and e-mail address before downloading), click to install it, input your AIM or .Mac account information, and you're done. There's nothing to configure. If you have Apple's new iSight camera, you simply plug it in once you've downloaded iChat AV, and the program automatically launches and instantly configures the video capabilities, as well.
If the people on your buddy list are able to videoconference, you'll see a green video icon beside their name.
iChat AV connects to the AOL Instant Messenger network, as it did in version 1.0, so chatters can talk to anyone with an AIM account--but not to any other IM services, alas. So far, iChat AV can perform only Mac-to-Mac video chatting, and it works only with a FireWire video camera, a limitation we find somewhat odd (the MSN Messenger 6.0 beta works swimmingly with a regular old USB cam).
Incoming requests for video chat sound like a gently ringing phone; you can click to accept or deny--and you'll still get a video preview. Even if you're decidedly a nontechie, iChat AV is blissfully simple to use, and although we don't normally recommend installing beta software, the iChat AV menu features an option to revert to the previous version, iChat 1.0.
iChat AV, like the previous version, offers all the basic instant-messaging (IM) features we've come to expect: You can send and receive files; initiate group chats; categorize your buddies into groups; save your chat transcripts (though not by default); and tweak privacy settings to allow or ignore specific contacts, everyone, no one, or only those on your contact list.