Nowadays, new laptops usually come with built-in Webcams, including the ultra-small, inexpensive models known as netbooks. But many people don’t know what to do with these Webcams or how to use them for videoconferencing with other people. Some don’t even realize their computers have these tiny videocameras.
This week, I tested a new videoconferencing-software program designed to help these people. It’s made especially for non-techies who simply want to use their Webcams to see someone while they’re talking to them. These people don’t want to conference several people into a call. And they especially don’t want to have to sign up for a confusing, intimidating videoconferencing service.
I used Logitech Vid by downloading it from www.logitech.com/vid. This program comes from Logitech Inc. and makes use of technology from SightSpeed, the videoconferencing-software company that Logitech acquired last fall. Vid works with Macs and Windows PCs that have built-in Webcams or those that use Webcams that plug into a computer’s USB port; it can even work if only one person has a Webcam so the person without one still sees video and hears audio from the other person.
Expiration Date for Some
If this was a free download for all, Logitech Vid would be a slam dunk for the consumer. But as of now, it is free only for people who use Logitech Webcams or the people they invite, and for people who are registered on SightSpeed or Dell Video Chat, Dell’s version of the SightSpeed service, regardless of their Webcam brand.
For everyone else, the software expires after 30 days, with no option to pay for continued use. This means Logitech misses out on the growing number of people whose laptops and desktops have built-in Webcams, but who don’t want to buy a Logitech camera just to use Vid (and shouldn’t have to). Logitech says it intends to add a payment plan for Vid.
I tested Vid with my parents, who recently bought a netbook for the kitchen but — before this column — didn’t quite know how to use its Webcam. I also tried it with tech-savvy friends who have video-chatted with me on programs like Skype, Apple’s iChat and Google Chat. Everyone had the same reaction: They liked Logitech Vid’s refreshingly clean interface and simple setup. My Mom appreciated Vid’s easy instructions, which are written in plain terms that anyone can understand.
Vid worked while I was video-chatting from one Mac to another; from a Mac to a Windows PC and vice versa; and from one Windows PC to another.
Invitations to Chat
I ran into trouble one night when Vid invitations that I sent to friends and family didn’t go through until after several attempts. Logitech says Vid was undergoing some behind-the-scenes server maintenance, which caused the glitches. (People who have trouble sending invitations like I did can alternatively direct friends to Logitech’s Web site to download the software.) And Vid didn’t work properly when I tried using it on my company-issued PC, which runs on a corporate network protected by firewalls. Logitech says Vid is targeted for consumer use, and not for sophisticated corporate environments.
Logitech Vid arranges photos of friends, along with their availability, in a visually pleasing carousel display.
People who are used to more advanced videoconferencing programs may find Vid unsatisfying. It doesn’t let friends instant message or share photos with one another, nor does it pull in buddy lists from outside videoconferencing programs. Vid isn’t designed to record conversations, host multiparty calls or take still photos during chats. Like other videoconferencing programs, slow Internet connections can occasionally cause video and audio to stutter.
But for simple video chats, Vid was a pleasure to use. If not for its 30-day expiration, I would definitely see myself chatting with my parents through this program on a regular basis. I used it to hold up three colors of dresses for my Mom so she could help me decide whether tea rose, azalea or peppermint was the best shade for my sister’s wedding (we’re leaning toward tea rose). My Dad and I had a face-to-face talk about my latest job news, and I saw a New Orleans friend and her dog, Boudreaux, appear on my computer screen almost as if they were in my house.
Smile for the Camera
Vid users invite others to chat by entering the other person’s email address. For invitees to accept an invitation, they must download the Vid software, which could be a deterrent for some. Those who do download the software and start their own Vid accounts (by just entering an email and password) appear to the original inviter in a carousel-like display of their contacts’ photographed faces.
These images are taken by the Webcam when someone sets up a Vid account, rather than allowing one to select his or her own photo from elsewhere on the computer. This is one example of Vid’s nod to simplicity and fewer choices. Likewise, the carousel of friends is organized in left-to-right alphabetical order showing those who are online followed by those offline. A simple status line below each person’s face identifies them as Unavailable, Available or Busy (already in a videoconference).
Clicking on a Pic
I called someone by clicking on their photo. The video-chat screen has four buttons that change its size, hide a small-image view of yourself, pause your video feed or end the conversation.
In a few instances, I heard a steady, high-pitched chirp and so did the person on the call with me. And we occasionally heard the echo of our own voices. Logitech said this sometimes happens when both users have open-air microphones and speakers turned up at the same time. Turning the speakers down usually solves the problem.
By August, all of Logitech’s standalone Webcams will come loaded with Vid software that starts up when the Webcam is plugged in. Now, the software is only downloadable from the Web.
Logitech Vid isn’t fancy, but it works well and presents its users with a satisfying experience so they can concentrate on enjoying their conversations. But it is a shame that Logitech doesn’t offer a payment plan for people who don’t use Logitech Webcams. If it did, Vid could help many people appreciate the Webcams they might never have otherwise used.
Edited By Walter S. Mossberg