I've now had a day to examine, test, tinker and generally get to know the new ooVoo beta release. I have to say honestly, the more I look at it, the more impressed I am. The combination of the magnitude of the changes and the quality and stability of the new release is really unusual. I have tried to go through carefully and note what is new, or changed, and highlight the most interesting parts.
First, I have tested this new release with my brother in Atlanta. His conditions are quite marginal - he has a relatively old laptop (in fact, ooVoo was continuously showing him a warning that his CPU was "weak", which he seemed to take personally...), and only a Wireless-B connection. When we have tried the other Video IM programs, we have had all sorts of problems with both audio and video quality - pixellation, smearing, choppiness, drop-out, the whole works. We had finally decided that the best thing to do was stick to audio-only calls with Gizmo. I was very pleasantly surprised when we tried this new ooVoo release! Video quality is good, and while he reported that the audio on his end sometimes got a bit distorted, we never had any significant problems communicating. Then I got brave, and added another laptop to the video conversation - and it came up just fine! Video was good, and our two-way audio was still just fine. Of course, I had to mute the audio on the second laptop to prevent feedback. I was so pleased and impressed with that, I sort of lost my head - and added the THIRD laptop that I have on my desk right now to the video call. Four-way video connection, and they were all displayed just fine!! There was some noticeable lag in the video coming from the AMD system, but even that was only a fraction of a second. My goodness, what a change from the previous release, when I tested a 3-way video call and the delay was so bad that I was able to get up, walk to the next office, and then watch myself walk out of my office!
I have also just tested it with my friend Grant in the U.K., and the results were very much the same. We got the best, most consistent video and audio that we have had so far. Grant seems to have a fairly critical eye (and ear), and when we have been testing SightSpeed and Gizmo together, he has commented that my voice sounded "harsh", or the video was smearing or pixellating. He said that with this version of ooVoo the audio was consistently good, and very clear, and the video was excellent.
One major new feature that I overlooked yesterday is the ability to add phone participants to video conference calls. Since we had so much success with multi-party video calling, I decided to give this a try as well. I went to "invite", clicked "phone", dialed his office number, and it rang! When he answered, we had a third participant in the call, with a small telephone symbol and the phone number at the bottom of the video window. Now, in my opinion ooVoo has always been the leader in video conference calling, with up to 6-way video calls possible. Being able to add phone participants to conference calls is a great idea. However, I'm still withholding judgment on this new feature for two reasons: first, at the present time you can only call numbers in the U.S. and Canada; second, they are currently offering up to 120 minutes of free calls from now until 1 March, but I haven't yet found anything that says how much calls are going to cost after that date. If they get the dial-out service working to "the rest of the world", and the rates are reasonable, this could be a really spectacular feature.
Another new feature in this release is the ability to record video calls. Once again, this is a really nice addition. It's simple to use (just click the new "record" button at the top of the video call window), it seems to work well (I haven't had any problem with it so far), and the recorded file saved on disk can be played back by ooVoo, through a button that has been added to the main ooVoo window, or with RealPlayer.
The third major new feature that I hadn't yet mentioned is the addition of "video effects" to a call. I can't do it justice right now, without looking at it a lot more carefully. I can say, though, that my initial reaction was less than enthusiastic, for the same reason that I'm not thrilled with Logitech's "Video Effects" - making myself look like a shark, or having a dragon flying around in my video window, just isn't high on my list of priorities. But Philip Robertson from ooVoo told me in an email that you can also share your desktop via "video effects" - now that is something that interests me very much! So I looked into that very briefly, and it looks very, very good. Once you start the video effects, they are shown in your outgoing ooVoo video window (not in a separate window). You can select your desktop as the source, and then you can send either the entire desktop (which is quite small when crammed into an ooVoo video window), a specific window, any area that you mark, or you can tell it to simply follow your cursor. The whole thing seems to work VERY well, and I am honestly just blown away by it. The potential for this, as a multi-way video conference with shared desktop, is staggering. My only reservation about it is that it is based on a third-party product (WebcamMax), and it is not clear to me yet if there will eventually be other costs, licensing restrictions or requirements. I will investigate this as well.
So, as I said yesterday, congratulations ooVoo. You have done an excellent job on this release, and you have definitely raised the bar in the Video IM market. To top it all off, I am very encouraged that this is still called a "beta" release from ooVoo - that tells me they are expecting to work out the rough edges in this version, and maybe even add a few more treats! In my opinion, the best release that Skype ever produced was nowhere near the quality, reliability or features of this "Beta" from ooVoo!