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Nothing beats a good ol' face-to-face meeting with your coworkers, clients, favorite customers, or boss--well, most of the time, anyway. Videoconferencing equipment from the likes of Polycom costs thousands of dollars--and you wouldn't want to schlep the hardware from hotel room to meeting room and back again. Of course, you could use Skype or an instant-messaging app like Windows Live Messenger for video conversations, but these free services can't accommodate more than two users during a video chat. Plus, in a business setting, you might want better video quality than you can get for free.
Enter SightSpeed Business--a videoconferencing program that provides good video and audio quality and the ability to see up to four talking heads on screen during a call. SightSpeed is a cinch to install, simple to navigate, and easy on the eyes.
SightSpeed Business costs $20 per month per user (or $190 per year), but the more seats you buy, the bigger the discount per head. (The company also offers a free version of SightSpeed that lacks multiparty video calls, file sharing, and administrative/call management options, for example. Check out PC World's review of the free SightSpeed 6.0.)
Before you can talk to your contacts using SightSpeed Business, they must install SightSpeed at the other end. Everyone participating in a call needs to have a Webcam, and we always recommend using a headset for conference calls.
SightSpeed Business features a simple, uncluttered interface that's a snap to use. You can build your contact list by adding the names of other SightSpeed users, and the app tells you when they're online and available. Initiating a call is a quick process: You select your contact's name, hover over one of four icons--video, telephone, video message recorder, or text message--and make your pick. To converse with more than one business associate on video, you click the 'Multi-Party' button and choose the participants you want for your call. I tested the multiparty calling feature with three talkers, and it worked well. You can easily record calls, share files, adjust the video controls, and mute the audio. The admin console, which lets you manage users, view call logs, and buy credit is well organized, and it's easy to hop from one admin task to another.
We tested the service using different Webcams--and not surprisingly, image quality improved dramatically when we moved from an entry-level camera to a more advanced one. That said, video quality was somewhat inconsistent. During one test, one of our faces appeared sharp, but the background seemed washed out; the next time, the whole video looked a tad fuzzy.
Voices generally came through loud and clear when we used SightSpeed to call landlines and cell phones--you get 500 free minutes to call numbers in the United States and Canada as part of the package--but occasionally we detected a bit of stuttering in our chitchat.
SightSpeed Business allows you to record video messages of up to 5 minutes each--the free version supports 30-second video recordings. Your recipient can view your video clips in your browser or within the SightSpeed app. When we first tried to play back the video greetings in the SightSpeed client, we got blank screens; the company suggested upgrading our version of Adobe's Flash player, and that correction did the trick. We encountered some voice choppiness in the video messages, but overall we liked how painless they were to create, preview, and manage.
Is SightSpeed Business up to snuff for video calls with internal and external parties at your workplace? We say yes, but with a qualification: You have to expect that some of the time, even with a fancy Webcam, video calls won't be pristine, as external factors such as Internet traffic and network congestion can affect the quality. But the video quality, though not perfect, is superior to that offered by free messaging apps like Skype and Windows Messenger.
One complaint about SightSpeed's features: In a Web communications program like this, I miss white-boarding capabilities. The company says that it is focusing on this collaboration capability and expects to roll it out in a future release.
Overall, if you're looking for an easy and affordable way to conduct videoconferences, SightSpeed Business should be in your sights.
Aoife M. McEvoy
An affordable and reliable video conferencing service for business users--no matter how big or small your company.
- Easy to install and use
- Service is affordable and reliable
- Lacks white-boarding features
- Video quality can vary
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