Gmail Video Chat – Google’s Voice and Video Chat – A Work In Progress

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gmail-videoGoogle recently switched on the tubes behind Google Video Chat. Mark Robertson and I had a chance to test it out and here are my thoughts on it. The video and audio chats require that you have the Google Talk Plugin v1.0.2.0 installed. Unfortunately, it is limited in operating systems and browsers that it is compatible with. It currently supports Firefox 2.0+, IE 6.0+, Safari 3.0+ and of course Google Chrome. While it states on the help page that Firefox is available for Linux, the Google Talk plugin in fact is not.

Next it appears to be seriously processor intensive. My Athlon 64-based laptop (2.4Ghz, 1GB RAM) struggled to run the video chat and do anything else, up to and including showing me text in Notepad. So it’s not exactly the most well written application from what I’m seeing at present. Of course, it’s still in its infancy and there are bound to be bugs and kinks that need to be ironed out.

It runs as its own .exe and even when you’re not using it in the browser it’s there sucking down some power if you have a Gmail tab or window open. I’m also fairly sure it’s been the cause of several Firefox 3.0 crashes lately (Windows XP) as the software was far more stable prior to my recent installation of the Google Talk Plugin. It starts up automatically when you head to Gmail and runs in the background using up about 5.2MB of memory and generally no processing when not in use. However, I don’t understand why it couldn’t start up when a chat was actually initialized instead of when one just visits Gmail. Most of us are going there for mail and not for video chat.

Personally I have a great big fat bandwidth pipe here at home. So I see no reason why any streaming video, especially when in a window so small, should be laggy. Yet this video was. It was so laggy at times that it was barely usable. There’s also a massive delay between saying something and the other person hearing it. This can be experienced by talking and watching the other person waiting to hear you. Or you might even hear yourself come back through the system. This is probably part of the reason why it is so laggy as it is sending redundant information back and forth. Part of this is obviously due in part to the microphones and settings being used so it’s not all Google here.

One-way video chat can be accomplished; however both parties must have the client installed. I imagine the same goes for the voice chat portion as well.

When you look at this and then look at YouTube live and some other things that Google is working on at present it sure looks like they are taking steps towards a fully interactive, two-way video communication tool or service. Perhaps they are actually working towards a streaming television service, who knows. Maybe they’re quietly weaving together a video-streaming empire or maybe they’re just playing around with video chat. Either way it doesn’t seem completely useful at present due to the lag, the potential instability and the fact that it seems to require so much processor that many people won’t be able to do anything else but video chat. I think for now I’ll stick to Skype for my voice and video chat usage.

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