Three great video chat sites

I recently found a very cheap web camera (USD $7 on eBay). My first thought was to try it out with popular video chat software like Skype or Ekiga. However, I realized that the people I chat with don’t have those programs — and probably don’t have the ability to install them either. So, I started researching flash-based video chats, and to my surprise, there were quite a few that worked fine and were available free of charge for personal use.  This is a review of three popular video chat services.

The first one is MeBeam.com. This is by far the easiest to setup, since all one has to do is append the desired chat room name to the URL and send it to the other person to join: www.mebeam.com/gabrielinux, for example. Up to 16 people can join the chat (or 4 in the MiniMe version). It’s a little slow though, as it requires at least a 256Kbsp upload speed and an even greater download speed. When connecting over wireless and using a USB web cam, that gets a bit tricky. The other problem with this chat is that if one uses an easy-to-guess chat room name, anyone would be able to join — even people with no moral values, if you know what I mean.  It also seems to kick people out after just a few minutes of inactivity, which is rather annoying.

Video Chat in MeBeam

Video Chat in MeBeam

The next one is a combination of two flash-based sites, Meebo.com and TokBox.com.  I first tested TokBox by itself, but it required signing up for an account, which meant having to keep track of yet another internet account and having to import my contacts.  So next, I tried it through Meebo, an instant messenger service that can connect to AIM, Yahoo, ICQ, Jabber, GTalk and MSN.  Through it’s TokBox widget, Meebo can start video conferences with anyone in your contacts list.  The video and audio are fast and stable.  The video quality is not very good, but it’s still better than that of MeBeam.  Sometimes, it may take a little while to get the video conference started.  Another down side is that only 2 people can be in the video conference at a time, as chat rooms do not currently support video.

Video Chat in Meebo and TokBox

Video Chat in Meebo and TokBox

The last site, UserPlane.com, has private and public chat rooms with video capability.  Many users can join the chat rooms, either with an account or as a guest, and have video conferences.  The video quality is by far the best I have seen among flash-based chat applications.  However, the connection is not very stable and the software seems to get confused about whose sound to process at what time.  The really big turn downs about this site are that one must first setup an account to host the chats (unless a public chat is acceptable), and that there are way too many big, flashy, super distracting ads all over the place.  The lack of integration with IM contacts is also a downside, although it is not a deal breaker.

Video Chat in UserPlane

Video Chat in UserPlane

So, overall, MeBeam is the easiest video chat out there.  It is also one of the slowest, and definitely the least secure and private.  Meebo/TokBox make a great team, allowing the use of existing IM contacts.  The quality is just OK, but the connection is reliable.  It’s too bad that Meebo with a TokBox widget does not allow multiple people in the same video conference, only two at a time.  UserPlane has the best video and audio quality of these services, but the connection is somewhat unreliable and the ads are too distracting.  Unlike Meebo, UserPlane can have multiple people in the same video conference.  Unlike MeBeam, UserPlane won’t close the chat after a few minutes of inactivity.  There are probably hundreds of other video chat services available out there, but these three services are definetely worth exploring.

About Gabriel Mongefranco

Gabriel Mongefranco is your software developer for all things data: extraction, integration, analytics and security. He is also a blogger, a poet, a proud father and a faithful Christian. He is always eager to contract with faith-based nonprofits! Learn more.