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Requires Outlook or Outlook Express
Provided that you've already installed Outlook Express 4.0 or Outlook 2000/2002, setting up VMailTalk doesn't take much effort. Just download a small plug-in for your e-mail client and connect any type of Webcam. The program recognizes your device and walks you through setup. You're good to go in a matter of minutes.
Simple, snappy controls
Once you've installed the plug-in, you'll see a video recorder window at the right side of a new Outlook message. The small preview window displays the current camera view and the Record, Stop, and Play buttons.
To send video mail, just address and compose a message as you normally would, click the Record button, wait for the 3-2-1 countdown, and strut your stuff. When you're through, click Stop. To preview your clip before you send it, simply hit Play.
When you're ready to send, rather than funneling your clip straight to the recipient as an attachment, which might easily exceed your ISP's attachment size limit, VMailTalk uploads the clip straight to Talkway's servers. When your friend views the video, it streams to his or her desktop, so the recipient doesn't have to download the entire file. In our tests at 28.8Kbps, it took as long as 50 seconds for the clip to start playing; on a 56K connection, we waited an average of 12 seconds. Not too shabby. Our only beef: the clip opens in a new browser window. We'd like to see it play within our e-mailer instead, if only to reduce desktop clutter.
Bigger video allowance
Last year, Talkway charged by the clip and limited you to 50 video-mail messages per month. Now, Talkway charges $4.99 per month or $49.99 for a year's worth of the service and has bumped up the limit to 2,000 minutes. We wish the pricing scheme were simpler, though. Talkway calculates your allowance by adding up all the clips you send and the number of times they're viewed. Send a 10-minute clip to four family members, and you use up 50 minutes--10 for recording the clip, 10 each for the four viewings. Bummer.
Don't bother reaching for the phone when you need help with VMailTalk; there's no telephone tech support to speak of, and Talkway's e-mail tech support is a mixed bag. We received a solid answer to one question within an hour, but when we wrote in about a problem with Outlook Express, we got a response two days later.
Nonetheless, if you're armed with a Webcam and Outlook Express or Outlook, VMailTalk is the best way to incorporate video into your e-mail. For a mere $5 per month, you can send enough video mail to make even your mother sorry you signed up for this service.