With my laptop now running Windows XP Professional very nicely, and Windows Vista Home Premium relegated to its box on the shelf, I am now ready to continue on my original path - installing and testing the next video calling candidate, ooVoo. I am attempting to evaluate each of these programs on its own merits, without too much cross-comparison in the initial reviews because I don't want this to turn into "XXX is better than YYY", or "gee I wish YYY had such-and-such like XXX does", quite yet. My intention is for the first appraisal to simply give an idea of what it is like to download, install, configure and use the program, I will get around to a comparison of the various programs in a later posting.
The good news about ooVoo is that it doesn't get much simpler than this! The download file is relatively small (about 8 MB), during the installation it only asks you one question, to confirm the installation path. If you have a broadband internet connection, which you probably do if you are trying to use a video call program, you can have the whole thing downloaded, installed and running in less than five minutes. The bad news is, this is only for PCs running Windows 2000, XP or Vista. They say that they will have a Mac version "real soon now", and apparently a Linux version sometime after that.
The way ooVoo handles webcams is also very simple, with basically the same advantages and disadvantages. They will take video from nearly any USB-connected video camera, and that's it. That means they don't try to dictate camera manufacturers or capabilities to you; if you have a crummy webcam, you'll get a crummy picture, but at least you'll get something. If you have a really good webcam, well, you'll get a decent picture, but probably not as good as your camera is capable of. If you have a FireWire connected camera, such as a DV camcorder or a professional camera, you're out of luck... As for video quality, I couldn't find anything in the ooVoo documentation, help, web page or user forums about the video resolution or frame rate. My best guess, from what I have seen so far, is that they do 320x240 resolution at no more than 15 frames per second, and it goes down from there, based on the capability of your camera, your computer and the bandwidth of your internet connection. That's a long way from "High Quality Video", which seems to be the current buzzword, but as I said, my take on ooVoo is that it is quick and simple, and if that's what you want you can't get fancy and complicated with video.
But ooVoo has one killer advantage - you can have a video chat with up to six participants (yourself and five others), if your computer and your internet bandwidth are up to it! That is a BIG "if", because it takes a lot of bandwidth to handle that much video data, and a lot of processing power to display it on your screen. I have had a three-way video call going already, and it is really quite impressive.
The ooVoo user interface is also very simple, with big, colorful buttons containing obvious graphics for their function. I was a bit surprised to find that there is no "test call" available, not even audio only, so once I got it set up on my laptop, I was left wondering if it was correct and would actually work. I found a note on the ooVoo FAQ titled "I've installed ooVoo but have no one to talk to, what should I do?", but the answer was "add a friend to your contact list, or invite s friend to install ooVoo". Duh.
Once you have someone to call, ooVoo is again "quick and easy". Obvious buttons at the bottom of the ooVoo window let you start a call or a text chat, and once you are in a call there are equally obvious buttons and menus to control the camera, microphone and speakers.
I was also quite pleased to see that the video windows, both incoming and outgoing, are automatically resized when you resize the larger window enclosing them, whether you stretch it or make it full-screen. Also, each individual video window can be enlarged to fill the enclosing window - this can be very nice for incoming video, but I'm having a hard time figuring out why I might want to see myself in the outgoing video window that large. On the other hand, I couldn't find the opposite function - do away with outgoing video preview entirely. I suppose it might be there somewhere, and I just haven't found it yet.
The biggest thing that seems to be missing in ooVoo is calls to (or from) ordinary phones. It is strictly computer-to-computer calling, at least right now. Again, they say that this will be added soon, but it's not a big issue to me, at least right now.
I'll post more "tech talk" on ooVoo in the next couple of days. For now, I would summarize by saying that if I needed to set up the simplest possible video communication program for someone, this is probably the one I would choose.