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SightSpeed 5.0 beta adds new video codec

SightSpeed released a beta download of its 5.0 version (it's confusingly labeled version 4.
Written by Dan Farber, Inactive

SightSpeed released a beta download of its 5.0 version (it's confusingly labeled version 4.6) of its IP video and voice service last night, with a bunch of new features, listed below. The highlight of the beta is a new codec that improves video clarity and resolution.

PSTN out calling
PSTN in calling (not yet rolled out)
Selectable PC to PC voice only calling mode (Mac and Windows)
Improved firewall traversal
SIP signaling for PSTN support
SOAP interface improvements
Configurable contact list, contact management via Plaxo
Enhanced contact list display modes (show only online users, online plus offline users, online plus offline plus offnet users, all the above plus plus PSTN numbers)
Enhanced co-branding capabilities
Ad/info rotator for partner promotions, subscription add ons and partner content
Toll-free 800 number support

Like others (such as Skype, iChatAV, Yahoo, MSN, iVisit) in the IP video/voice conferencing space, voice and video services are merging. However, SightSpeed's claim to fame is its video quality. "We think this new version raises the bar over what Skype or anyone else is doing, and I am confident when compared by independent parties, we will come out ahead again," company President and COO Scott Lomond told me. "We lead with video, and now we are adding voice-only calling, but we are a video company first."   


SightSpeed's video quality--30 frames per second, low latency, synching lip movement--is derived from its proprietary technology. The software sniffs network conditions 30 times a second and adjusts dynamically to optimize the stream for the available bandwidth, company CEO Peter Csathy said.

"The new codec is based on standard H.263, with additional extensions and wrapped in our technology around rate control for media delivery," according to Jeff Wilson, vice president of engineeering at SightSpeed. "We can react to real-time Internet hiccups, latency and buffering devices, without any sacrifice of high frame rate and low latency. Our quality of service system can detect those issues, such as which leg of a round trip is causing the problem." Wilson said. "We actually have a box that allows us to emulate real world Internet health, so we can capture what the Internet connection looks like between two points, and with that data turn the dial and adjust the delivery system to fit real world examples," he added.

SightSpeed has a free, basic service with unlimited voice and video calling and video mail and storage, and a Pro service for $4.95 per month (or $49.95 per year), which includes more storage and features such as unlimited multi-party voice and video conferencing, priority tech support, a personalized Web page, unlimited group text messaging and detailed call history.

SightSpeed's business model includes building co-brands for partners, such as for Creative Labs, Roxio, Telewest (an MSO in the UK). The company logs more than 90 million in minutes on a monthly basis, Csathy said. SightSpeed isn't offering free calls in North America like Skype, but is competitive with other services (2 cents a minute in the U.S.). "We are considering some things when we come out of beta, but at this point we aren't prepared to talk about promotion yet," Lomond said.

The beta label is expected to be lifted in July, and the new codec will become the default.

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