Video IM Services Face Off

At a Glance
  • SightSpeed Video Messenger

Clique Video Messenger (above, left), SightSpeed Video Messenger (right), and Logitech VideoCall. Actual video quality may vary from that depicted here.
Clique Video Messenger (above, left), SightSpeed Video Messenger (right), and Logitech VideoCall. Actual video quality may vary from that depicted here.
When face-to-face meetings are impossible and telephone calls do not suffice, video instant messaging can bridge the gap. Although free video IM services exist, a few dollars a month can buy you features those services don't offer, including realistic voice sync, added functionality, and improved connectivity behind routers and firewalls.

We tested three video IM services that promise high-quality video and audio, reliable connections, and an easy learning curve: the shipping version of SightSpeed's SightSpeed Video Messenger ($5 per month or $50 per year), and beta versions of NetGen Video's dial-up-friendly Clique Video Messenger and Logitech's elegant-looking VideoCall. In our tests--using Logitech QuickCam Orbit Webcams, a PC running Windows 2000, and a notebook with XP Professional--all three fee-based services worked not only through a corporate firewall, but also with a home-networked user on one end. The freebie services sometimes have trouble piercing firewalls and routers.

The largest distraction involved in using video IM is the delay between voice and picture. SightSpeed Video Messenger's excellent voice sync and short turnaround time permitted me to converse normally with a fellow tester, despite tinny audio and sometimes blurry images. The test participants freely interjected comments and were able to interrupt one another on this broadband-only service. Text messaging, once summoned, appears underneath the video window. SightSpeed's dialog boxes told us where we went wrong when we attempted to install an unsupported camera or run the software on an unsupported OS. When the DSL connection of the person I was conversing with choked on the large images I chose, SightSpeed automatically resized them smaller and then alerted us. SightSpeed also installed a tech support contact in our contact lists.

If you are using dial-up, Clique Video Messenger is your only option among these three services. The company strongly recommends a broadband connection for its Video Chat feature, however.

When we tested Clique over broadband, it delivered decent video quality at different image sizes, but with tinny audio. And its voice-sync quality--though acceptable--fell short of SightSpeed's.

We had to dig through the menus to find some Clique functions, but we uncovered a wealth of features for customizing the data flow to maximize limited bandwidth (such as controlling the sent and received bit rates). At press time, NetGen Video had not determined pricing for its service, which should be available by the time you read this.

Send Video Clips

Clique's standout feature isn't its video IM capabilities, but another part of its service: recorded click-to-send Video Instant Messages, which basically are video clips you create and send to a recipient, who can play them back at leisure. To start and finish your VIM, you click a Record button; another button sends it on its way. When received, the clip appears as a thumbnail image in your partner's Clique text window. Clicking the thumbnail plays the VIM, which delivers a default resolution higher than that of Clique's real-time Video Chat.

Keep It Simple

We found the slick, one-window interface in Logitech's VideoCall the easiest to use of the three. We appreciated the phone-like ring tone that alerts you to an incoming call, and the photo address book on the interface's right side. VideoCall's audio quality was the best in the group. That said, this broadband-only service is better suited for one-sided monologues than for spontaneous verbal exchange: Lagging voice sync frustrated us, and the video looked distractingly jerky. This program lacks a text window, too; if you need to type something out, you have to open a separate text IM program. Logitech has slated VideoCall for release in mid-June; as of this writing, it was not priced.

Any of these video IM services fulfills the need for eye contact coupled with voice input. But unless my eyes and my ears deceive me, SightSpeed Video Messengera??s ease of use and lifelike voice sync make it tough to beat.

NetGen Video Clique Video Messenger

Preproduction version, not rated
Videoclip feature adds vigor to merely competent video chat.
Not priced at press time
Current prices (if available)

Logitech VideoCall

Preproduction version, not rated
Poor audio-video synchronization despite sleek video interface.
Not priced at press time
Current prices (if available)

SightSpeed Video Messenger

Dead-on lip sync; worth the fee.
List: $5 per month, $50 per year
Current prices (if available)

To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
At a Glance
  • SightSpeed Video Messenger

Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.