I've had some time now to look into the "Dell Video Chat powered by SightSpeed" announced yesterday. I am very impressed with what they have done, both technically and commercially. I said earlier in the week, when I looked at the new SightSpeed build, that I had the feeling it was only the beginning of something much larger, and this is it.
First, commercially. This is such a good move by both SightSpeed and Dell. For SightSpeed, it will increase their user base dramatically, and very quickly. For Dell, it puts a first-rate video chat program on their computers, provided by and presumably supported by a company that is known for quality in both product and support. The first thing that I noticed after installing Dell Video Chat was that SightSpeed Support was included in the contact list. How refreshing that must be for Dell! For both of them, the decision to include what is essentially the SightSpeed "Personal Plus" package on new Dell systems was very good. It includes up to 4-way video chat, which lets the users see one of SightSpeed's strongest points.
Technically, it is essentially the same as the SightSpeed 6534 build that I wrote about earlier this week, with a slightly different user interface. The biggest difference is that the window backgrounds are all black, rather than white, which I suppose gives it a more "elegant" look. Between using the new SightSpeed build all this week, and looking specifically at the new Dell Video Chat version, I have seen a few more things that I want to comment on in this release.
First, THIS is the direction that I think IM program development needs to go for the future, not in the bloated, overbearing, mindless direction that the new Skype 4.0 beta has gone. The new Dell and SightSpeed clients are still as compact, visually appealing and efficient as the previous versions were, only better. Place the mouse cursor on the line for a contact, and you see buttons for video call, audio call, text chat, or video messaging - but only the buttons which are applicable to that contact. It doesn't get much easier than that, anyone can recognize the icons on the buttons, and it doesn't stick a graphic the size of a silver dollar (or a pound coin) in your eye for each one of them.
There is a "Test Call" button in the Dell Video Chat client, which simply records a short audio and video message on your computer and plays it back for you - the simplest way in the world to confirm that both are working, and that volumes are set reasonably.
Once you have started a video call, the video is displayed in a window within the main SightSpeed/Dell window, with the rest of the main window around it. There are buttons to switch to a video-call-only window (remove the rest of the SightSpeed main window), and to full-screen video. If you go to a video-only window, you can then resize that as you like, by simply dragging the corner. This is a very nice touch, because you can make the window large enough to see clearly and comfortably, but still keep the rest of your desktop available for other things. Besides, while full-screen video sounds like a good idea, the simple fact is that most video chats are still not up to a quality that looks good full screen, mostly because of the cameras that are being used, or the speed of the internet connection. It doesn't take long to realize that you can size the video-only window so that you get an excellent picture, rather than looking at jaggy lines in full screen mode.
There are also buttons for camera/microphone/speaker mute, and sliders for microphone and speaker volume, and a button to start a text chat alongside the video chat. Very convenient.
Finally, shortly after installing the Dell Video Chat client, I received a welcome via video message. While the content of the message was pure fluff (to be honest, I can't even remember what it showed), but the fact that it was sent, and it illustrates to a new user what can be done with video messaging, is a good thing.