First Results - SightSpeed

After several days of testing, I am ready to report some results and opinions on SightSpeed. It has been interesting, enlightening, occasionally frustrating and so far very useful.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

After several days of testing, I am ready to report some results and opinions on SightSpeed. It has been interesting, enlightening, occasionally frustrating and so far very useful.

As I said in my previous post about SightSpeed, the installation was quick and easy. I installed it on my partner's computer, a rather underpowered Dell with a Celeron CPU and an integrated Intel display adapter, and the "fish tank" test call worked just fine. In fact, if anything, it seemed noticeably better than on my laptop. (Hmmm. This could be troubling, more investigation on this below.) Next, I contacted my brother, on the other side of the world, and suggested that he try installing SightSpeed. The next day I got a SightSpeed video call from him - further proof that installation, setup and use are easy, even if you aren't a seasoned "Video IM" user!

SightSpeed seems to take a rather conservative approach to system configuration, especially in the audio and video devices. First, during the initial setup, it noticed that my webcam (I had a Philips SPC900NC connected at the time) was not one of the "tested and approved" models. The message was pretty clear, though, it basically just said that they didn't know if my webcam would work with SightSpeed or not, but I could go ahead and try. I assume that this is just their way of being conservative, or "covering their rear end", because I tried five different webcams with SightSpeed, none of which were their "approved models", and they all worked just fine. Second, when you start SightSpeed it will notice if your camera or audio devices have changed since the last time it ran, and if so it will ask if you want to run the "setup wizard" or just exit SightSpeed. Hmmm. Those are the only two choices; I would prefer to have a choice that says "yes, I know that it has changed, but it doesn't matter to you so just carry on and be quiet" (or perhaps "Continue" if that is too much text for one button). But again, this is probably just them being conservative and trying to avoid surprising the user. It is fairly common for users to have USB-connected headsets, and if SightSpeed has been set up to use that, and then when it starts the headset is no longer there, what are they supposed to do? The only options are for them to ask the user what to do (i.e. "run the wizard"), or take a wild guess at whatever other audio devices might be present.

Setting up a contact and making a call (either audio or video) is quite easy. The buttons next to the contact names are large and clear, and even have floating "tips" that tell you what they are for if you stop on them with the mouse for a few seconds. Both audio and video quality were good, with the exception of the audio problem on my laptop, explained below. I thought the video choices were sort of at the two extremes, either a rather small window, with good quality, or full screen, with more jaggy lines than I have seen since I last used a Commodore 64! It would be nice to have the choice of a medium sized window with reasonably good video. The default video is 320x240 resolution and 30 frames per second, which is pretty typical of Video chat programs today; if there is limited bandwidth, camera resolution or processing power, they will fall back to 160x120. They will also go up to 640x480 resolution if you have at least 1.5 Mb of bandwidth on both ends of the connection, but I think that kind of bandwidth is still fairly rare today.

Ok, so much for the "good stuff" - I think it's pretty obvious that I am quite pleased with SightSpeed. But it hasn't all been a bed of roses, I ran into a couple of problems. The first, and the biggest, which I mentioned above, was that SightSpeed audio on my main laptop was very choppy. I first thought that this was a general problem with SightSpeed, or perhaps with connecting from far away little Switzerland. But then I realized that my partner's system didn't have this problem, and it is a considerably less powerful system and it uses the same internet connection that mine does. I sent in a support request with all the details, then while waiting for a response I spent some time perusing the SightSpeed User Forums, and when I didn't find anything directly helpful, I posted a request for help there. I am very pleased to say that I got quick and competent responses from both places, within a couple of hours. What a refreshing change from Skype "Technical Support" where you must wait a minimum of four days before even getting an acknowledgment of your query, and then it is generally accompanied my some totally irrelevant or inane suggestions. Unfortunately it appears that the problem is something to do with my laptop, so we haven't been able to resolve it, but the advice and troubleshooting tips I have gotten has been very good.

So, there you have it, the first few days with SightSpeed in a nutshell. They had told me that they wanted to hear the "good, bad and ugly". Well, the good is that I like it, it installs easily, works well and looks good. The bad is that I ran into an audio problem, which apparently is something wrong with my laptop but doesn't appear with Skype or ooVoo, and there seems to be a bit more potential for problems with firewalls that with the other programs. I'm pleased to report that I have not found any "ugly" at all.

For those who are interested, I will follow up with more technical detail in the near future.

jw 21/11/2007

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