Last week Dell launched its new Studio line of laptops. According to Mobile Review (17") and PC Mag (15") — both of which gave them an "Editor’s Choice" designation, this line is a cross of the Inspiron consumer line’s pricing and the XPS laptops’ reputation for having "desktop" horsepower. Apparently the ability to make a fashion statement in selection of the color scheme is also a key feature. And it includes a 2 megapixel built-in webcam.
We are also at a stage where the consumer community is starting to grow awareness of real time video communications. The Mac’s iChat feature has been instrumental in introducing a new generation to video calling. But video requires more PC horsepower (processor speeds, better audio and video device management), improved webcam technology (such as the Logitech Carl-Zeiss optics webcams), more effective user interfaces and high quality broadband (at a minimum) Internet connections. We have witnessed the expansion of Skype’s video calling to the point where apparently 28% of all Skype-to-Skype minutes now include video as a component of the conversation. Certainly Skype’s High Quality Video has changed me from a lethargic occasional user of video calling to one who uses it for most of my Skype calls.
As noted in the Dell press release, the launch of Dell’s Studio line is accompanied by the introduction of Dell Video Chat, powered by SightSpeed, a pioneer, since the "last" Comdex in 2002, in providing the infrastructure for real time video conversations. I have been a follower of their evolution since that launch and watched as they established a market niche for video messaging and SightSpeed for Business (initially allowing 4-way multi-party video conversations but recently enhanced to support 9-way multi-party video conversations). Dell Video Chat for Dell Studio laptop owners includes not only the basic free features associated with SightSpeed but also the 4-way multi-party video chat, unlimited video storage and other features of SightSpeed’s Plus service. SightSpeed’s press release lists all the features.
While Dell Video Chat presents to the user a redesigned, more user-friendly user interface, incorporating feedback from SightSpeed users, the underlying infrastructure is basically that available with SightSpeed; however, a few key features of note:
- The new user interface has separate tabs readily leading to video, voice and text chat conversations.
- 4-way multi-party video chat sessions is Dell Video Chat’s and SightSpeed’s most significant differentiating feature. Multi-party conversations can be launched and expanded from within a video chat session without the need to restart a call.
- It incorporates the ability to send video mail messages when a contact is not available, a long time unique feature of SightSpeed’s service.
- SightSpeed recently upgraded its service to provide improved handling of, and adjustment to, users’ Internet network connection conditions.
- It incorporates free VoIP-based calling to other Dell Video Chat contacts; calls can be made to the PSTN at the usual low rates of most VoIP services with this offering (with the exception of calls to mobile numbers outside North America).
- There is a "Video Privacy" button that allows you to turn on/off transmission of your video images.
In order that friends and colleagues who do not have a Dell Studio laptop can communicate with Dell Studio owners using Dell Video Chat, a Dell Video Chat client is also available for download and installation on both Windows and Mac platforms. It works with most webcams; however, for the best video experience I have to recommend the Logitech QuickCam Pro webcams with Carl-Zeiss optics; this was confirmed in a couple of SightSpeed test calls with Andy Abramson at VoIP Watch.. These users obtain the free basic SightSpeed features but must upgrade to the Plus service to obtain services such as hosting 4-way video calls1, extended video mail recording and unlimited storage.
Some observations, incorporating comments from an interview with SightSpeed CEO Peter Csathy:
- Dell Video Chat is most obviously Dell’s response to the popularity of the Mac’s iChat service.
- Dell Video Chat will primarily build a user based as new Dell Studio PC’s are acquired; currently my contact list is very limited (to SightSpeed personnel and affiliates). Apparently we can expect to see Dell Video Chat coming with other Dell laptops and Dell desktops in the future. Building a user base will be SightSpeed’s and Dell’s major challenge in a world with users already subscribed to any of iChat, MSN Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and, of course, Skype.
- The new Dell Video Chat interface is not only a more pleasing skin; it provides an improved user experience relative to the SightSpeed client.
- Through Dell as a partner channel SightSpeed will certainly build awareness of real time video conversations as a low cost communications tool.
- The Dell Video Chat relationship is an initial partner in SightSpeed’s goal to provide real time video calling infrastructure services to other platforms and possibly social media networks.
- Anne at Dell’s Your Blog says, So Easy Your Mom Can Do It.
And a few comments:
- With Firefox approaching a 20% market share it would be nice if the web links from SightSpeed’s clients would recognize the user’s default browser settings instead of forcing Internet Explorer to open.
- Currently SightSpeed’s technology requires 1.5 MHz Internet upload connections speed to transmit 640 x 480 VGA video at 30 frames per second, well above the <1Mbps speed available with widely deployed consumer (cable and DSL) broadband services. As result broadband users can only expect to see 320 x 240 resolution. While providing a more than acceptable video call quality for video conversations, this resolution does not have the psychological impact of 640 x 480 @ 30 fps found with Skype’s High Quality Video over consumer broadband connections.
- Audio quality: While the Dell Studio laptops are equipped with array microphone and speaker hardware that take care of echo cancellation, using SightSpeed from other platforms appears to require headsets to take care of potential echo cancellation issues. Most of my Skype conversations, incorporating Skype’s inherent echo cancellation feature, are with users on both Mac and Windows PC’s who find they can converse quite satisfactorily using their PC’s inherent mic and speakers. My only use of a headset is when there are privacy issues or I don’t want to disturb nearby colleagues. And, to date, I have not experienced on SightSpeed-to-SightSpeed conversations the quality of Skype’s HD Voice with its wide audio bandwidth on Skype-to-Skype conversations .
The IP communications space thrives on both innovation and competition. SightSpeed has, since my initial experience several years ago, been a leader in real time video communications. There is still a huge learning curve out there for the consumer public to become familiar with the concept of low cost IP-based communications, especially real time video calling. The SightSpeed team is passionately committed to providing high quality services; when encountering some initial problems with running the latest SightSpeed upgrade and Dell Video Chat, they immediately addressed the issues (and have probably made some unannounced service modifications). Dell Video Chat will provide a much broader public with an IP-based video communications experience, much as the Mac has introduced video, text and voice communications through its iChat service. Finding market niches such as video messaging, SightSpeed for Business and infrastructure services such as Dell Video Chat are building for SightSpeed a business that has both the potential for profitability as well as a being a more than competent player in the IP-based communications space.
As for selecting a service it’s up to you as an end user to determine which services both meet your needs and are most easily implemented and operated. Dell Video Chat and SightSpeed are definitely worth a try for the user experience.
For more information about SightSpeed listen to Squawk Box’s recent interview with SightSpeed COO Scott Lomond.
- The "No Hardwadre" Movement Continues: SIghtSpeed Offers Video Communications Services for Business
- Video Here, Video There, Video Everywhere
- To Each Its Own; There’s Personal Video and Then There’s Personal Video
- SightSpeed: Focusing on Personal Video Services
1Only the host of a multi-party video chat session needs to be a subscriber to the SightSpeed Plus service or its Dell Video Chat equivalent; other participants in the call simply need the Dell Video Chat client.
Tags: SightSpeed, Dell Video Chat, Dell Studio, SightSpeed for Business, video messaging, iChat, Skype High Quality Video, Skype, Peter Csathy
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