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Skype U-turns on 'second class status' video

An option to manually boost resolution is to be reintroduced to the popular voice and video-calling application after users accuse Skype and Logitech of 'potentially alienating millions'
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Skype is to reintroduce an option in its Windows client that allowed users to manually enable high-resolution video without the use of certain Skype-endorsed webcams.

The internet telephony company recently launched, in conjunction with the peripheral manufacturer Logitech, what it called High Quality (HQ) video-calling. Using one of three premium Logitech cameras, users of HQ video can achieve a frame rate of 30fps rather than Skype's usual 15fps, and VGA (640x480 pixels) resolution rather than QVGA (320x240 pixels) resolution.

However, after ZDNet.co.uk published a story covering this launch, several readers added comments noting that, before Skype upgraded to its HQ-supporting version 3.6, the application had already included an option to manually activate VGA resolution — a function that had been removed in the new version.

"It is surprising that Skype has decided to relegate the majority of their existing users who own webcams to 'second class status', apparently only because of a marketing agreement with Logitech," wrote J.A Watson, while a1gjv opined that "Skype and Logitech are now not only in the web camera and VoIP business but also in the business of telling us what we can and cannot use on our PCs".

"This [agreement between Skype and Logitech] is all very well but why should we be told by both Skype and Logitech that HQ video will only work with their products?" added a1gjv. "By doing this they have potentially alienated millions of paying customers and in my mind that is not good business practice."

Skype issued a statement on the matter on Wednesday, claiming that the configuration option had been geared towards "tech-savvy users with webcams that could handle it", and confirmed it had been removed in Skype 3.6.

"While it's true that the configuration option (which was essentially a garage hack) did offer better-than-average video, the quality was very unreliable. It worked for some users while frustrating others," the statement read. "Any benefits of the removed option pale in comparison with High Quality Video, which was our focus in Skype 3.6 for Windows. High Quality Video has moved the video-quality bar significantly higher. That's because, together with Logitech, we worked on all aspects of the video system — from optics to drivers to the video codec — to achieve reliable High Quality Video performance."

"Very few people used the previous video configuration option, so we were surprised at the reaction of some of these users when the option was removed," Skype's statement continued. "We'll therefore happily re-introduce the option very soon. However, we'd like to remind users that the restored configuration option will not provide the High Quality Video experience. In order to get that, users will need a combination of certified Logitech hardware and optimised Skype software."

Two years ago, e-commerce giant eBay paid £1.3bn for Skype in a deal seen by many as overvaluing the VoIP company. Many analysts and industry observers are still wondering how Skype — best known for offering a free service — will make an acceptable return on that investment.

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