I spoke with Eric Quanstrom, Vice President of Marketing for Sightspeed about this major annoucement. I also installed Dell Video Chat to check it out for myself, so I'll include some screenshots along the way.
Eric said, "We've been bundled with camera manufactureres before but we've never been resident on OEM PC hardware. In fact, I believe this is the first time ever that anyone has bundled a communications client directly onto the operating system across all SKUs." He continued, "We're going out with their Consumer line. The good news is that it represents an all-in-one where we eliminate any kind of download/install scheme that I think the mainstream video/chat/conferencing market has suffered from."
Since Dell works on a June-to-June calendar for major software changes to their computers, Dell PCs this month should start to come pre-bundled with the SightSpeed communications client. Eric explained, "We've optimized Dell Video Chat powered by Sightspeed for the new Dell hardware that is going out. That includes all the embedded web cams, array mics, and we've designed a user interface that has gone through some pretty extensive user testing or competive bake-offs as far as usability is concerned. We've emerged on the eve of the release with a product that we're very happy with."
That's me doing a quick video test. Will try a
Dell Video Chat is the equivalent to SightSpeed PLUS. Dell users get free 4-way multi-party calling, unlimited free calls to other SightSpeed users, multi-party text-chat (up to 4), video mail, long video mail record time, and it comes pre-bundled with 5 minutes of PSTN calling. You can also use the free VoIP minutes even if don't have webcam.
Dell is doing away of Desktop icons entirely and promoting Dell Dock. The Dell Dock is essentially Dell's answer to task-based launching of programs and applications. It's really similar to the Mac launcher that resides at the bottom of your screen. Here's a screenshot of Dell Dock:
Dell Dock (top of screenshot) where SightSpeed has premium placement in the Communications section of Dell Dock
In fact, the first dock item is "communications" and the Dell Video Chat is co-located with "email" which launches Outlook or whatever email client you are using. This gives SightSpeed very high visibility on the Desktop of Dell PCs and laptops. It's very similar to Apple's popular application launcher.
Additionally, Dell Video Chat is also a shot across the bow of Apple iChat. Apple iChat can only run on Apple environments where as SightSpeed can run on Apple, Windows, and Linux.
The native video frame specs are 320x240 30fps using the H.263 video codec throughout. Currently, if you change your bandwidth setting to 1.5Mbps up&down you'll automatically go to 640x480 video. You can increase the bandwidth further and the video will adjust accordingly. Eric proudly explained, "As much as you want to pump through our system the quality will continue to increase."
SightSpeed vs Skype
This is unlike Skype's HD video feature which as my Skype High Quality (HQ) Video review explains, requires specific Logitech webcams and specific PC hardware requirements - namely dual-core PCs to get higher resolutions. Score one for SightSpeed! I also like that SightSpeed is not proprietary and leverages industry standards such as SIP & H.263. Like Skype, SightSpeed also supports wideband audio.
I inquired how they price compare with SkypeOut per-minute rates and Eric told me, "We're actually lower. We come in about 2/10ths of a cent lower to both the U.S. & Canada and 3/10ths of a cent lower to the UK. When we're rolling out Dell Video Chat and prestocked the minutes, this was a very conscious decision for people to give us a try and check out what we have to offer. Not just from the video chat perspective which we think is great story to tell, but this may be the untold story is also our PSTN side of the phone."
Dell Video Chat sample 4-party multi-party video conference
The Internet Connection screen where you can set your bandwidth and even tweak your MTU
Dell Video Chat powered by SightSpeed will include the following features:
• A completely redesigned and streamlined Dell user interface
• Free, unlimited video chat worldwide
• Free, unlimited voice chat worldwide
• Free, unlimited text chat worldwide
• 4-Way Group Chat (voice, video or text)
• Low-rate worldwide calling to ordinary phones - 2 cents per minute in the United States and Canada
• 5 minutes of free phone calling is included with every Dell system
• The ability to purchase custom phone numbers and area codes
• Presence indicators
• Message Center: All video/voice calls Inbox
• High-quality Video Mail
• Video Mail recording of up to 3 minutes
• Storage of an unlimited number of Video Mail messages
• Notification of missed calls and receipt of Voice/Video mail and e-mail
• Reporting of Video/Voice call history
Other SightSpeed attributes include:
- the highest-quality, full-motion, 30-frames-per-second video with clear audio and no delay;
- superior video and audio experience with low to no latency over variable bandwidth conditions;
- patented technology that provides superior rate control for any bandwidth, handling of firewalls and video-codec optimization.
Dell Video Chat's Text Chat screen
Voice dialing screen
I played a "welcome / promo" Dell video chat message which essentially is your 1st Video Mail.
Welcome screen when you first launch Dell Video Chat
The application is pre-installed on Dell systems and is activated with one mouse click. SightSpeed has also made it easy for users to share the application with their friends and family who can simply download the "invitee" client program by visiting http://www.sightspeed.com/dellvideochat.
"Dell went out and got the best-of-breed video-communications service--SightSpeed--to be included in their newest laptops. This is as easy-to-use, wherever-you-go as it gets," said SightSpeed CEO Peter Csathy. "Their stamp of approval means that video conferencing is becoming a part of everyday communications and they picked the best company to provide it."
The consumer 4-way multiparty video for free is actually a $9.95/month value that Dell users get for free when they purchase a Dell system. Non-Dell users would have to pay $9.95/month for the 4-party multiparty video and other "SightSpeed Plus" features.
"Dell is excited about the opportunity to provide enhanced video chat services to our customers," said Dell's Michelle Pearcy, director, Global Client Software Marketing. "The partnership with SightSpeed allows our customers to quickly and easily communicate with friends and family in a variety of ways by combining both text and video chat features into a simplified customer communication experience."
Lastly, I'm going to include an edited version of my interview with Eric Quanstrom as a podcast. (there was some stuff off-the-record) Some interesting thoughts on the Dell partnership, his views on SightSpeed & their competitive advantages, and more. Download it here.