After a beta period of several months last fall, Skype launched Group Video Calling on Skype for Windows at CES 2011 as one element of its Skype Premium service. Group Video Calling on the Mac became available with the release of Skype for Mac 5.0. Over the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to host a weekly group video call for an Internet Marketing mentoring group in which I participate.
This was a group that had been using a hosted push-to-talk conferencing where only the speaker’s video would appear – using Adobe’s Flash Video. It provided a tedious (and not terribly robust) way to share voice and video but ….
- being push-to-talk, only one person could talk at any given time; any ad hoc conversation had to be via the text chat window.
- there were pregnant pauses while the video started for each participant who wanted to talk; it was not what one would call “totally interactive” or spontaneous ad hoc conversation.
- the chat window was only available during a session; if you lost the connection and reconnected, you only picked up new chat messages and lost any previous content, such as URL’s and email addresses.
- voice quality was acceptable but definitely compromised by the audio technology employed
- the service itself often could not stay connected for the duration of a conferencing session.
Once we were about to cancel one of our weekly sessions due to hosting issues when we realized there were fewer than ten participants on the scheduled call. Instinctively I fired up Skype Group Video Chat; immediately we had:
- seven or eight participants on a call, each with live video (provided s/he had a webcam)
- a fully interactive meeting experience where one could start talking “spontaneously”
- due to the nature of the group and a “business meeting” discipline, no moderator was needed
- participants were on both Windows and Mac platforms
- a persistent and archived chat session is available
- while some participants used headsets, others used microphones and their PC speakers – but there were no echo issues from any party – echo cancellation played a key role in the audio quality experience
- voice quality is “as if we were all sitting around a table in the same room”
But don’t take my word for it when it comes to the audio performance. During an interview with the mentoring group’s leader, Brad Gosse, about how he uses Skype to build and support his business, I asked him about his impression of Skype Group Video:
Any participant with Skype for Mac 5.3 could actually share his/her desktop to a Skype Group Video call; hopefully this feature will soon be supported in an upcoming release of Skype 5.x for Windows.
One other “robustness” feature I noticed during a recent call. For whatever reason, one of the participant’s Windows PC crashed during the call; Skype for Windows gave me, as the host, “transparent” notice of an Internet Connection issue, the participant’s video disappeared from the call screen, yet the called carried on without interruption. However, once he rebooted his PC and opened Skype he was presented with an opportunity to rejoin the call, did so and reappeared in the call with no disruption of the call itself. (As shown in the image, participants who have left a call are prioritized in the Add to Call screen.)
Bottom line: you probably have to participate in a Skype Group Video call to fully appreciate the participant audio and video experience. Suffice it to say all the participants’ feedback from these calls relates to the value of the discussion content – the video and audio technology has become totally transparent to the real purpose of the session.
A couple of related posts:
Andy Abramson talks about Video Calling In The Living Room where he intends to use Group Video calls for his weekly staff meetings:
Virtual face to face meetings that will replace the faceless conference call. With video calling in the living room, or the conference room available for so little money, you have to wonder why people are waiting?
Michael Graves points out why he continues to use headsets at his home office to avoid introducing “room tone” into his audio: Can You Hear Me Now? Headset vs Speakerphone In The Home Office
Note that Skype continues to include unlimited calls to North American destinations with a Skype Premium subscription.
- Facebook Video Chat – Powered by Skype: First Impressions (voiceontheweb.biz)