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The future of video phone calls has arrived, or so AT&T would have you believe. Even though the idea of video phones has been around for awhile, it hasn't quite caught on with the general public. AT&T aims to change that with its new mobile video-calling service called AT&T Video Share. As the name suggests, the service lets you "share" live video with your friends with your cell phone. The service only supports one-way video calling for now, and it will only work when both of the phones are connected to a 3G network. Both phones also need to be signed up to the Video Share service.
Despite these problems, however, we think the potential for video calls is huge--imagine sharing video with your friends and family across the country no matter where you are, using live video to comparison shop, or real estate agents giving you a tour of a house without you having to be there. When 3G networks become more commonplace, and when AT&T removes some of the limitations of Video Share, we can see this becoming a very useful feature.
Currently, Video Share is only available on selected phone models: the LG CU500V, the Samsung Sync, the Samsung A717, and the Samsung A727. The Video Share service will cost you as well; it's $4.99 per month for 25 minutes of usage, or $9.99 per month for 60 minutes of usage. If you opt out of the subscription, it's 35 cents a minute. Only the sender will be charged.
We tested the service using two Samsung A727s in San Francisco using AT&T's service. Starting up Video Share couldn't be simpler. We made a call from one phone to the other, and once connected, a "Video Share" option pops up on the lower-right corner. Another way to start up Video Share is by going through your camcorder options, selecting the Video Share application, which then prompts you to call someone on your contacts list. When the Video Share option is selected, the recipient is prompted with a dialog box requesting for permission to accept the video. Once accepted, the video starts streaming immediately, absolutely live. You can change the video to full-screen or landscape mode if you wish, plus you can adjust the brightness, mute the sound, or turn the speakers off.
Once the video starts streaming, the phone automatically starts recording it directly to memory. This is so when the video ends, you can choose to save the video. This is a pretty good idea in theory, but not so much when your phone has limited memory to begin with. We would've liked an option to refuse to have the video be recorded.
Performance can be a little shaky, however. There is a noticeable delay in video streaming, even with 3G. We calculated a delay of about half a second. Also, video quality is dependant on the quality of the camera. The resulting video on the recipient's end was shaky, choppy, blurry, and pixelated. The sound quality was pretty good, however; it came through loud and clear.
A more significant problem arose when we couldn't always get the Video Share option to show up during a call. We believe this happens when we attempt to make a call when the 3G network wasn't available. Even though 3G is available in over 160 markets in the country, sometimes it's not always possible to get that high-speed connection, which is a good thing to keep in mind if you're considering 3G services like Video Share.
A brief interview with an AT&T representative revealed that the company does plan to integrate two-way video calling in the future, plus it hopes to have the video stream over to a Web site or television set as well. If AT&T manages to upgrade the Video Share service as it suggests, and if 3G becomes more widespread, we definitely see it as a wonderful feature that's worth the extra money. Until then, however, the AT&T Video Share service is only for first-adopters and those who don't mind giving new technology a try.