Gizmo Project 4 - with Video Support

After a rather long detour, caused by my being away over Christmas and then settling in with a new laptop, it's time to get back on track with examination of Video IM programs. Next up on my list was Gizmo 4.

After a rather long detour, caused by my being away over Christmas and then settling in with a new laptop, it's time to get back on track with examination of Video IM programs. Next up on my list was Gizmo 4.

First, and very important to be fair, the Gizmo Project still clearly labels their 4.0 version as "Beta", and say on their main page "Feeling adventurous? Try the beta version of Gizmo Project 4.0 with video calling." Well, my experience so far indicates that you need to be felling very "adventurous" indeed to try Gizmo 4, and you had better have a lot of patience and fairly thick skin. It still has a lot of significant bugs and problems.

Download and install are fast and easy, as was the case with Gizmo 3. It does not require you to uninstall Gizmo 3, it simply installs on top of it, and it picks up your existing profile, contacts, Call Out balance and the likes. The window design and user interface have been changed significantly from Gizmo 3. I like the new design, I think I would call it more "mature" looking.

Of course, the big change in Gizmo 4 is video support. There is a new "Edit / Options" menu item for "Video", where you can select the webcam to use and see a live video preview from the selected camera. You also get to select the video resolution that you want to send, which I think is a great idea. Both SightSpeed and Skype will automatically send whatever they think the "maximum resolution" your camera, computer and broadband connection can handle is, and this is simply not always a good decision. There are numerous situations where a user might want to limit the resolution (or the amount of data) they are sending, and this provides an easy way to do that. As far as I know, this isn't possible with SightSpeed, and it's difficult with Skype (requires editing the Skype config.xml file).

The resolutions you can choose from aren't that great - 352x288, 176x144 or 128x96 - but they are adequate for what I want, I think. It is a bit confusing the first time you make a video call, because the size of the initial video window on the receiving end is the same regardless of the resolution you have chosen. But if you look at the image in the window, you can see the difference in resolution. By the way, the video window can be easily resized by just dragging one corner.

The Gizmo controls have been extending in pretty nice, logical ways for video calling. You can control whether you start a call audio-only or with video, and if you start audio-only but the person you are calling can receive video, the "start video" icon will be active on your end, otherwise it will be grayed out.

Unfortunately, as soon as I started testing Gizmo 4, I ran into trouble. I was testing on my two laptops, at that time one running Vista and one running XP Pro. Within the first two or three test calls between them, Gizmo crashed on the XP system when a call was terminated. A little more testing confirmed that this happened frequently, but not always. Certainly more than 50% of the calls.

It also appeared that Gizmo was sometimes having trouble with audio input or output, until I finally realized that the problem I had previously reported with Gizmo 3 was still present in Gizmo 4. In a nutshell, if you have multiple audio input and/or output devices, and Gizmo has different devices selected than the Windows default devices, then when Gizmo starts it initially uses the wrong ones. Going to Edit / Options / Audio and simply clicking "OK" resets it to the correct devices. This is disappointing, because I had been told by Gizmo support that this problem was fixed in Gizmo 4. Sigh. This might sound like a rather obscure problem, but it really isn't. I have a Logitech USB Audio Hub speaker on which I want normal Windows "sounds", nice and easy to hear. But when I am making a call, I don't want the audio being broadcast all over the office, so I use a headset and that is where I want Gizmo to put the audio out.

There are also some problems with "presence detection". When I was testing with my friend Grant over the weekend, at one point we were chatting via Gizmo text IM, and each of us could see the other's Gizmo status as "available", but when he tried to call me Gizmo said that I wasn't on line! I could actually see his status on my end change from "available" to "on the phone" and then back, but he couldn't call me. When I tried to call him, it rang with no answer, and he told me in chat, as I was sitting there listening to it ring, that nothing was happening on his end. I then tried calling the echo test, and even that didn't answer! I shut down Gizmo and restarted, and then it was all ok again.

By the time I was testing with Grant, my laptop was running XP again instead of Vista, and Gizmo crashed on me several times. Usually it was at the end of a call, as mentioned above, but at least once or twice it was during a call when we were switching video on and off. At that point I decided that Gizmo 4 was just too unstable to use, so I have since reinstalled Gizmo 3 (again, no uninstall, just installed over Gizmo 4, which was installed over the original Gizmo 3), and it is working just fine again.

I have reported these problems to Gizmo support, and they came back and asked for log files, which I provided. I'll be watching for the next release, and any other information about possible fixes, so I can try Gizmo 4 again. In the meantime, if I want a broken piece of software that crashes all the time, I can just go back to using Skype, I don't have to fool around with Gizmo 4. So for now, I will just stay with SightSpeed for video calls.

Again, to be fair, the Gizmo Project clearly labels this as "Beta" software, and it certainly deserves that label. For voice-only calling, and text chat including multi-party "group chats", Gizmo 3 is still very good. For call-out to PSTN (POTS) phones, Gizmo 3 is also quite good; in fact, while I was traveling in the U.S. I wanted to use something other than my Swiss cell phone, with very high roaming charges, to call my brothers' various fixed line and cell phones. I found it much easier to get Gizmo to take my Swiss credit card than SightSpeed, so that was where I put my money, and I've been happily using Gizmo Call Out since then. I was surprised to find that adding that credit to my account was enough to qualify me for the Gizmo "All Calls Free" (ACF) program, which I had honestly not been able to understand the criteria for. So next on the agenda is evaluating ACF, as soon as my brother gets qualified as well.

jw 15/1/2008


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