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Variations on a Theme: New VoIM Clients

Recently I’ve been playing with several new VoIM systems: TelTel, Sightspeed, and Skype with Video.  The Sightspeed folks were good enough to send me a Sightspeed Starter Kit, which includes a Logitech web cam, and that’s what I’ve been using. Ken Camp and I had a video call last Friday with both Sightspeed and Skype, and then I spoke with Eugene Eckard at Skype and Brenda Gili of TelTel using the  TelTel client.  I did it from our corporate network at iotum, which is due for an upgrade. We’re connected to the outside world on a commercial grade DSL line, and periodically we saturate our outbound pipe.

Caveat: As you may know I am not a huge fan of video telephony.  My experiences to date have all been uniformly poor. Most of the time I’ve ended up looking at the person’s forehead, and the video quality has been extremely variable.  I’m happy to say that the state of the art in camera design has advanced since the last time I used one of these — Logitech’s face tracking technology keeps a tight focus on the speaker, and the video quality problems I’ve seen previously have largely been addressed.  There is still the overall experience issue that the view you have of the other person is that person looking at their screen, which gives you the constant impression that they are not actually listening.  One of these days, someone will mount a 1 pixel pinhole camera in the center of my screen and solve that problem.


Sightspeed is targeted squarely at consumers, and all types of video usage.  They help you with family video, video mail, and video blogs.  They have a nice address book, and the product is dead simple to use.  High marks! They also use a proprietary codec which allows larger, clearer video over lower bandwidth.  In use, what I found was that they had better sound quality than Skype, but video suffered (presumably from packet loss when our outbound link saturated), with periodic macro blocking or colour shifts.  It recovered nicely, but the flaws still existed.

For Skype, video is just an added media type.  You can’t do anything special with the media, as you can with Sightspeed.  It’s very simple to use, though.  Just add a camera.  Skype will recognize it and let you start to use it for your calls.  Video quality is high.  I noticed no artifacts, although the frame rate was a little slow.  However, sound quality, when compared to Sightspeed, was lower. 

TelTel doesn’t support video, but does provide a glimpse of what could be a very compelling experience for the business user.  At first, it appears to be just like Skype.  Sound quality is higher, which is surprising because they use the same GIPS codec.  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that they’re not using peer relays, which Skype does.  More interestingly, though, TelTel has a small business offering, which allows you to do things like call operator@teltel.com and enter an extension to reach someone.  In the TelTel world, you can hang a PBX off the network, without messing around with a proprietary gateway a la Skype.  That’s very cool!

What’s interesting to me in all of this is watching this second generation of clients start to focus on specific market segments. Of the three, TelTel is the best solution for business and Sightspeed best for consumer.  And Skype?  Well, when you’re the big kahuna, you try to be all things to everyone. It’s a great position if you can hang on to it.

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Aswath March 14, 2006, 12:39 pm

    I doubt that peer relays is the source of poorer performance of Skype calls. After all, in most of the cases, the relays are used only during the initial phase of the calls. I recall a podcast interview with somebody from GIPS. They explained why GTalk quality is better than Skype even though both use the same codec. His explanation was that implementations have the freedom to set playout parameters at different levels and that GTalk had "gold plated" the values. I suspect that that is what TelTel has done it as well. That would be my guess.

  • Alec March 14, 2006, 1:40 pm

    Interesting, Aswath. I had no idea. All I know is that audio quality on Skype is lower (in my opinion) than virtually all of the other clients out there.

  • Luca March 21, 2006, 3:13 am

    Hey guys, do you really need video ?
    Mobile video companies are struggling to find new services in order to lead users to video, because videocalls are a total failure. On the web, the problem is the same.

  • Alec March 21, 2006, 11:26 am

    you know Luca, I am a big skeptic about video. But so far it hasn’t been bad. The experience is a little weird since the other person is always looking the other way. So, I dunno…

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