Friday, September 3, 2010

Skype Introduces 10-way Video Calls, But Is It Ready For Prime Time?

Yesterday Skype released an update to its popular video chat and VoIP client with a second beta of Skype 5.0 for Windows, that introduces group video calls with up to 10 people. The update works only on Windows and everyone on a group call now needs to be running this newer version, to join in group video calls. It was only a few months ago that Skype began to offer video calls up to 5 people. At that time, Skype admitted that this new feature was in beta and there might be a few rough edges, and that it might not work perfectly every time. With this new version, Skype says it has increased stability and better quality when making group video calls, along with a new sleeker look and feel to the user interface.

For now, Skype is offering 10-way video calling as a free trial, but it's likely to become a premium feature in the future. Skype competitor, ooVoo, also had multi-party video chat for up to 6 callers as a free service before moving to paid plans with tiered rates from 3 up to 6-way calls, and free a plan for 2-way calls only. Other premium features ooVoo has include video recording, screen sharing and 480p video quality and high quality audio which ooVoo says gives it an edge over Skype. Read this ooVoo review post for more on ooVoo.

While I haven't yet downloaded the Skype 5.0 for Windows update yet, or given it try, I'm still skeptical it could provide a quality user experience with that many video callers, especially through the public Internet where there's no QoS (Quality of Service.) In the videoconferencing world, you need a MCU (Multi-point Control Unit) to bridge all your video connections and dedicated network resources to support IP video calls.

My guess is that for Skype to work for 10-way calls  you need to have at least a 3-5 MBps Internet connection and a PC with a Dual Core processor and at least 4 GB of RAM to handle that amount of live streaming data. Skype has been positioning itself for the enterprise and this new offering is really more of a business play than for consumers. Better to be behind a corporate firewall where you have more control at managing network traffic.

Life hacker recorded this demo and Whitson Gordon who wrote the accompanying blog post said to not expect great things.

Gordon shared the following in his post:
"We took the beta for a test run, to see if we could get more than five people running in a video chat. Once we got past about three of us, most everyone stopped outputting video, and the audio got pretty choppy. Overall, it wasn't the best...if everyone in the group has a powerful computer and a fast connection, you might be able to get it to work—as always, your mileage may vary, and it is still in beta—but it doesn't look like this is going to work very well for everyone. Check out the video above to see how it went for us."
There's still no word on Linux or Mac versions, although when Skype announced the five-way calling it said 'later this year' for a Mac version. But if you want Skype 5.0 for Windows download it now.