Video voodoo

* Video calling and conferencing system ooVoo

Today’s topic is only tangentially a Web application, but it is so amazingly cool that I felt I had to include it here in the Web Applications newsletter.

The object of my enthusiasm is ooVoo, a video calling and conferencing system that raises the proverbial bar quite remarkably.

OoVoo installs painlessly on Windows 2000, XP, or Vista (OS X is due for release in the near future) and works with any standard USB camera and Windows sound system microphones and speakers. After installation you need to create a new ooVoo account, which requires at the very least an account name (AKA your ooVoo ID), account password, and your e-mail address.

You then add contacts by finding them in the ooVoo directory by name, e-mail address, or ooVoo ID and send them a connection request and once they confirm you can connect (all of the confirmations are done via ooVoo. OoVoo can also import addresses from Outlook, Outlook Express, and Windows Live Messenger.

Here’s where the ooVoo voodoo happens: ooVoo allows you to connect with up to five people simultaneously and does an amazing job of optimizing and prioritizing network traffic. Generally the quality of both audio and video is outstanding (actually this is some of the best video performance I have seen outside of high-end systems with high-speed connections!). In really marginal environments ooVoo will try to keep the audio running at real-time rates and freeze the video images if necessary.

The ooVoo user interface is very cool, boasting that kind of polished, animated presentation that I associate mainly with OS X applications (the OS X version should look very good). When you connect to one or two people the display is organized as 3D panels – for four or more people the display changes to a more conventional grid layout of three windows over the remaining windows.

What if your contact isn’t online? You can send another ooVoo user or, using the built-in e-mail service, anyone, a video message of up to 1 minute (if the recipient isn’t an ooVoo user the e-mail message contains a link to download the ooVoo software). Even better, you can instant message to any user (even one not in your current video conference) using ooVoo’s Jabber-based system and send and receive files.

So how does ooVoo work? OoVoo uses a presence server to establish calling endpoints and then for two person conversations the endpoints create a person-to-person connection. For three or more endpoints or where the ptp network conditions are marginal ooVoo routes video and audio data via ooVoo’s servers.

The protocols involved in running ooVoo are proprietary and designed to be transparent to firewalls (they run over HTTP and HTTPS ports 80 and 443 respectively) so enterprise network managers may find a new source of network loading appearing.

A testament to the effectiveness of ooVoo and its video quality is that a large number of deaf users have already discovered and adopted ooVoo. According to the ooVoo folks these users have told them that it is the video quality that engages them because the nuances of signing can be easily seen. Interestingly deaf users are apparently also the heaviest users of multi-way conversations.

Future features will include the OS X support already mentioned, address book importing from the likes of Plaxo and LinkedIn, and an API so that developers can extend the range of ooVoo’s services.

The tangential Web application side of ooVoo is that you can generate a gadget to include on any HTML Web page so you can be called with a single click by any ooVoo user (calls from ooVoo users you haven’t confirmed generate a confirm request while non-users are offered the ooVoo download). You can find my gadget on Gibbsblog – give me a call – really, I’m interested in talking to you …

Here’s the really cool part: ooVoo is free! Eventually monetization will be achieved via advertising and a range of premium services including ad suppression, VoIP integration (the intention is to support six video sessions and six VoIP to PSTN sessions simultaneously), MMS video messaging, broadcasting, and more.

OoVoo’s feature and performance voodoo may well make it the breakthrough product that brings video calling and conferencing to consumers while it is pretty much a slam dunk for ooVoo to become a corporate fixture in double quick time.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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