Early reviews: Facebook's video chat 'buggy'

1:54:00 AM

Early reviews: Facebook's video chat 'buggy'
07/07/2011 | 11:17 AM

Nobody's perfect, not even social network giant Facebook.

Tech sites on Thursday (Manila time) said Facebook's new Skype-powered video calling feature had "buggy" results, at least in their initial tests.

"In addition to the video and audio problems our testing produced, we encountered numerous bugs, including connection and install issues on multiple computers, failure of the chat to recognize cameras, failure of the software to install when Facebook reported that the software would be installed, and failure of the software to initiate chats," PC World's David Daw said.

Daw said most of the issues were addressed by reloading our Facebook window and trying again.

Yet, he said it was a "far cry" from the ease of use that Facebook representatives were claiming.

He also voiced suspicions the timing of the launch was related to the announcement by search giant Google of its new Google+ social network.

"While there are a lot of exciting features here and in the other chat improvements--including group chat and a new chat interface that Facebook announced today--it all feels somehow unfinished and rushed into service. The timing of today's launch may have more to do with last week's Google+ announcement than with an engineering decision that the Facebook chat service was ready to go live," he said.

PC Magazine junior software analyst William Fenton1digg said the video quality is "average" and calling is restricted to one friend, for now.

Software complications

Daw also said the software installation was more complicated than it was in Facebook's demonstration.

"When we tested the new chat feature on both Windows and Mac PCs, we were prompted to download and install the video chat software outside the browser. This makes the chat setup no simpler than gChat's video-calling feature," he said.

Daw added Facebook's chat does not yet work on devices running Linux systems.

Even when the software is installed, he said the service "looked and sounded" buggy.

"On every computer we tested with, however, the service looked and sounded extremely choppy. Video frame rates were extremely low, the audio cut in and out, and trying to chat with more than one person in a frame--as Facebook did in its demo today--resulted in even lousier video quality," he said.

But he said server overload should not be an issue as Facebook said the service was a direct peer-to-peer connection.

"This means that you're connected from your PC to the PC of the person you're trying to chat with, so server overload shouldn't be an issue. Perhaps the service simply needs a little more work," Daw said.

PC Mag's Fenton said installing software "isn't entirely effortless" as he had to install a Java file on his MacBook Pro.

He also noted a snag when in at least one call, the party's video feed could not be seen. The problem was addressed when the chat was relaunched.

"Facebook Video Chat won't soon replace the standalone Skype client. It doesn't have the valuable features, HD video quality, or multi-party video chat. It does, however, make Skype video calls incredibly convenient by embedding the definitive conferencing service in the definite social network," he added.

Video voicemail

Daw said Facebook failed to mention that its new video chat integrates with its video voicemail.

"If your friend doesn't pick up when you try to initiate a video call, Facebook enables you to leave a video message for them instead. The message then waits as a streaming video clip until the next time your friend logs on or checks messages," he said.

Video voicemails appear as messages in your regular message log with Facebook friends.

Gmail already has video chat

PC World's Paul Suarez, on the other hand, noted video calling was already built into Google's Gmail since 2008.

Suarez also noted Google+'s "Hangouts" could pose a serious threat to Skype and Facebook because it is free, browser-based, allows up to ten people in the same video chat room, and lets the group watch videos together.

"The Facebook/Skype solution is also free and browser-based but it doesn't let the group watch videos together and only allows a one-on-one video chat -- for now," he said.

"If they roll out an update that includes group chat before Google+ goes public, it could be enough to derail some of the new site's momentum," he added. — RSJ, GMA News

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