Make Free PC Video Calls With Skype's New Software

Skype Technologies today updated its Internet telephony software, with version 2 adding free integrated video calling to the company's popular Voice over Internet Protocol service.

Skype Video allows you to see the people you are calling and lets them see you, if you wish. The company says that Skype Video is compatible with almost any Webcam. To make video calls, both parties must have PCs with functioning Webcams and the Skype 2 software.

Skype users with older software can speak to other Skype users for free from their PCs, call traditional telephone numbers for a fee (that service is called SkypeOut), receive calls from traditional phones for a fee (with a service called SkypeIn), and receive voice-mail messages for a fee.

Hey Mom, I'm a Dinosaur

Skype demonstrated the new video call service to PC World, using partner Logitech's Webcams with Logitech's Video Effects software. Although the effects software is not new, it is still very fun to watch.

Using Webcams with Logitech's Intelligent Face Tracking technology, you can impose any of a series of avatar faces and bodies on your video self. These avatars move the way you move when making the video call--they raise their hand (or paw), tilt their head, and so on. You can be a fairy princess for your niece and an alien for your brother-in-law, among many other choices.

The video-call demonstration by a Skype employee on his laptop to another Skype employee worked well in the PC World offices, displaying just a bit of video hesitation. PC World is currently putting the service to a full test out in the real world and will post a review shortly.

The Video Effects software comes with select Logitech Webcams, including the Logitech QuickCam Fusion and the QuickCam for Notebooks Pro. Skype also announced that it will partner with Creative on a Creative WebCam Instant Skype Edition, which comes with a personal headset with microphone, software, and a stand-alone microphone for use when several people wish to talk. Some of Creative's Webcams also provide video special effects via software called Advance Video FX.

Other New Features

In addition to video calling, Skype 2 also adds call management tools, including one-click access to key features and options; the ability to let your contacts see your mood, via emoticons; and the ability to see what time it is where your contact is, so that you don't call at an inappropriate time.

Other new features include contact organization--the ability to group your contacts. This feature also allows you to start conference calls, chats, or file sharing with the whole group with just one click. Skype 2 also adds the ability to look up contacts in real-time by typing a name into the dialing field, and a Skype toolbar for Microsoft Outlook, which you can download here.

Skype 2, which is in beta, is available for download here.

Call From Your Blog

Also, if you're a blogger using Six Apart's TypePad blogging software, Skype 2 will allow you to show your availability and to make Skype VoIP calls directly from your blog or personal Web site.

Skype version 1.4--which launched for beta testing in August and was final in September--introduced Personalize Skype, a customization service being managed by Qpass, a Seattle-based Skype partner.

Personalize Skype offers consumers static pictures to use as avatars and sound clips that can serve as ring tones or replace Skype's default sounds. The features also are available in Skype 2.

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