Skype 2.0 review

Tom Keating : VoIP & Gadgets Blog
Tom Keating
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Skype 2.0 review

With the launch of Skype 2.0 beta today, I thought I'd take the new version of Skype for a quick whirl. The Skype interface looks much the same as before - the same clean look, but they definitely did some polishing. The main new feature in Skype 2.0 is the video feature which I will examine in in a minute. First I want to point out some interesting new features.

One interesting feature is the real-time contact search. It lets you look up contacts in real-time by typing a name into the dialing field. As you type each letter, it matches a particular contact and highlights each letter of the Skype contact as you go. Perfect for those that hate using the mouse and are more keyboard-centric.

Another interesting new feature is the ability to group your contacts, which I am surprised Skype hadn't had this feature before. I use groups within MSN Messenger and other IM clients all the time. It lets you organize your contacts by grouping your friends, co-workers or family members. Importantly you can start conference calls, chats or file sharing with the whole group with just one click. Very cool! B) One caveat - Groups are turned off by default. I had to enable it. Adding contacts to groups is a simple drag-and-drop affair.

The chat features emoticons and your typical chat features including the ability to record your chat history (Skype had this already).

The last interesting new feature is the "self-expression" feature which lets you broadcast your mood along with your online presence. You simply edit your profile and add in some text in the Mood field to let your contacts know whether you're happy, sad, listening to your favorite music, available to talk or do not want to be disturbed etc. The text will then appear within a blue balloon next to the contact.

Now the fun part - the video capabilities of Skype. I already had a Logitech USB camera installed on my PC which Skype immediately recognized with no problem. Skype lets you access the cameras video controls to fine tune the contrast, color, brightness, etc. from within Skype. In addition, you can choose whether or not to share you video automatically or whether to receive video from no one, people in your contact list, or using your privacy options.

I made a videoconference to a co-worker's PC sitting behind me. Note, he didn't have a camera, so it was a one-way video test with our IT guy. He's camera shy anyway! Right, Benzy? ;) Here are screenshots of the local and the remote end of the Skype video call.

Local End

Remote End

The really cool thing is that you can spawn the window off of Skype and resize it to be much bigger. Or if you really want to get crazy, you can even view the video in Full Screen mode. The full-screen mode had amazingly good video quality. The frame rate was very good and I looked to make sure the video was in sync with the audio by clapping and watching the hand movements. I also watched my lips to see if the audio and the lips on the video were in sync and indeed they were. Quite impressive!

I can't show a full screen screenshot (too big for my blog), but here's a spawned window made as big as possible to fit the width of my blog. Is that my bald spot? ugh! :( I guess the video must be pretty good resolution to pick up my bald spot which is only 1cm wide. Really, it is...Honest! ;)

Other than the video capability in Skype 2.0, the feature-set improvement is nominal over the previous Skype release. Nevertheless, the video capability is a very important feature added to the Skype portfolio. Ironically, by Skype adding Outlook Toolbar and video capabilities, they are competing with their own developers that offer Skype add-ons to add these capabilities. Dialcom offers a 'Skype add-on' for video which I wrote about awhile back and Skylook offers an Outlook add-on. Makes you wonder if this will affect Skype developers from wanting to support Skype knowing Skype might betray them.

Overall, I was very impressed with the video quality - it only had minor hiccups during a 30 minute test. Add in the well-renowned audio quality to the new video capabilities and Skype 2.0 is a must have VoIP software solution. Go get the Skype 2.0 beta download (for Windows only) right now before the West Coast wakes up and floods the Skype servers. Actually come to think of it Skype's website was a bit slow this morning for me.

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