Video tools close in on that long distance feeling

Video instant messaging and videoconferencing are becoming harder to tell apart, both in quality and in price. New products shown at the Instant Messaging Planet Conference and Expo in San Jose this fall cover the spectrum from US$25 monthly for video IM to thousands of dollars a year for full-fledged groupware.

The video services follow the model of other instant messaging add-ons, such as Vibe Phone, a telephony utility. All of these vendors either let users access the service through a Web browser or offer a free software client for download, and price the service on a monthly basis, with varying factors and features. Most require that only the meeting or IM host actually subscribe to the service, so it’s possible to have a video chat with a potential customer without them having to pay.

Video functions require at least the host to have a Web cam, as well as anyone responding to (not just watching) the presentation. Most also require a broadband connection.

The herky-jerky lag time problems of early videoconferencing programs have discouraged users, and the standalone video messaging program SightSpeed Inc. tackles this technology issue by looking at it literally the way the human eye would. Cell phones, with their 120 millisecond latency rate, pose perceptible lag time problems. Sightspeed Visual Messenger operates at 50 to 90 ms on most broadband connections, well below a latency humans can perceive.

Userplane’s A/V Instant Communicator is a flash-based video/audio/text instant messaging program that has been licensed to a number of companies and communities. It’s also available to anyone who wants to create their own video IM community.

Userplane bills by the number of concurrent connections. Only one service subscriber is required per conversation, although both parties need to use a Web browser with Flash 6.0. No additional software is required. New users get a 60-day free trial for the service.

If secure Web conferencing is a priority, VIA3 e-meeting service from Viack Corp. may answer those concerns. The program supports both Secure Socket Layer and Advanced Encryption Standard encryption. Viack claims no other Web conferencing product offers SSL encryption as a standard feature, and no similar products offer AES at all.

A VIA3 meeting can accommodate up to 25 people, with each of them shown in a resizable image window that can be set to show live video or a still picture. VIA3’s user interface lets e-meeting attendees store project documents in File Cabinets and collaborate on Word documents, PowerPoint, and other common business applications.

Like VIA3, the e/pop Web Conferencing Server from WiredRed Software Corp. supports desktop-sharing, video conferencing, and collaboration for all Windows applications.

It uses the dockable tab interface familiar in Microsoft Office 11. It supports SSL, SSL3 and Transport Layer Security encryption.

Also in the works is IMConferencing, a Web conferencing and collaboration product from LiveOffice Inc., slated for release early 2004. The company has no relation to the Microsoft server product of the same name.

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