ooVoo Video Conferencing Review

by Reads (52,370)
  • Pros

    • Easy to set up and use
    • Desktop sharing is cool
    • Fairly light client
  • Cons

    • Interface is bloated and unintuitive.
    • Pricing schemes are too complex
    • Advertising is too intrusive

By Dustin Sklavos

ooVoo is a client and service that allows you to chat online with other people over your webcam and microphone — largely for free. Does ooVoo have what it takes to depose Google Video Chat or is it just another pretender? We break it down in this review.

As far as I’m concerned, Google Video Chat is the only incumbent that needs to be dethroned for general consumer video-conference usage. Google Chat has is easy to use and requires a only quick installation. For me, simplicity is really the name of the game, and I’ll be comparing ooVoo and any other video chat contender to the existing — and free? — Google alternative.

SET-UP

ooVoo Video Conferencing camera testGetting started with ooVoo is pretty easy; visit their website, download their modest client (~17MB download) and run the installer. During the process, ooVoo will try to get you to install a toolbar in Internet Explorer and change your homepage. I elected to skip these options. Creating an account with ooVoo is pretty easy and painless, and I was able to set up my main and test accounts with little trouble. From there it tests your speakers, webcam, and microphone to make sure everything’s working properly.

As you can see by my charming mug there (love those locks), provided your webcam drivers are installed properly, ooVoo should operate without incident. In both laptops I tested it on, I had no issues with the webcam. The speaker test isn’t shown because frankly, if you’re not getting audio out of your computer, ooVoo’s going to be the last thing on your mind.

This was a trickier part, but it’s not really ooVoo’s fault. Most laptops have microphones built in these days, but getting Windows to properly choose and recognize it is another matter entirely. In both machines, I had to go into the Recording Devices menu in Windows 7 and un-mute the mics. After a bit of testing, the microphones worked fine and I was ready to get going.

EASE OF USE

ooVoo Video Conferencing client windowOnce you’ve got ooVoo up and running, you’ll see what I consider ooVoo’s main drawback.

The client window for ooVoo is cluttered and busy. Granted, many chat clients these days suffer from this kind of visual bloat, but the ads bother me. That said, the client is free to use for one-on-one video calling so you can’t complain too much.

I think my problem had to do with the icons not making much sense to me out of the gate. You’ll want to hover your mouse over each one to figure out what they do.

With my accounts set up, though, I went ahead and added…myself.

The friend-adding dialog is fairly intuitive but again, suffers from a little bit of needless clutter. Understanding it’s taking its cues from old school chat clients like ICQ, the central problem is really going to be who wants to video chat with random strangers? (Those over eighteen in the audience should go ahead and put their hands down now; I don’t want the answer.)

To test the functionality proper, I went ahead and called myself.

This little window pops up in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, but the ringing sound is very immediate. Using an old-school phone-ringer must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but the sound is abrasive.

ooVoo Video Conferencing chat view

Once you’re in chat, the default windowing is excessive and the ad is more than a little irritating. Video and audio came through about average; I wasn’t impressed or disappointed, it seemed to work just fine.

Finally, closing out of the chat and trying to exit ooVoo results in one of those nasty little pet peeves I’ve had with modern apps for a long time now: “Closing” your ooVoo window just minimizes it. I hate that application developers do this; when I want to close an app, I shouldn’t have to right-click it in the system tray and then exit out. That’s what the X in the top right corner is for.

UNIQUE FEATURES

ooVoo separates itself from the competition by featuring a subscription-based plan that can allow you to video conference with multiple people over the internet along with sending large files (up to 25MB) over the service.

Free users don’t get the shaft, though; you can record and leave video messages for people (up to a minute long), and one of my favorite features was being able to share your desktop online.

ooVoo Video Conferencing shared desktopThe viewer on the other side won’t be able to manipulate it, but they’ll be able to see exactly what you’re doing at all times. The flipside is that it disables your webcam, and it’s pretty slow. Still, for something like a remote PowerPoint session, I could see this being marginally useful.

I also like being able to independently adjust microphone and speaker volume while in video chat. You can reduce how loud you are, as well as how loud your chatting partner is. A small feature, but useful if every so often they decide to scream out your eardrums.

And finally, ooVoo can be used to call people on land/mobile lines proper to bring them into your conference, but this is billed at a rate of at least two cents per minute.

On the downside ooVoo’s pricing schemes and structure are flat-out convoluted. A visit to their website reveals too many options. I’d really like to see this simplified a bit more. An ooVoo rep might suggest just going with one of their monthly plans, but there’s a problem with that: There are four. That’s at least two too many. A wealth of options may scare off the consumer who just wants software that works.

CONCLUSION

I don’t want to call ooVoo bad because it works and works well. For some users that may be enough, and it’s certainly a far cry from the nightmarish video chat problems I’ve had with programs like Yahoo Messenger. I just don’t think it brings enough to the table to warrant being used over leaner alternatives, and the design seems to lack focus. There’s no harm in trying it, but I’d stick with Google Chat unless I really felt like I needed the features ooVoo brings to the table.

PROS

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Desktop sharing is cool
  • Fairly light client

CONS

  • Interface is bloated and unintuitive.
  • Pricing schemes are too complex
  • Advertising is too intrusive



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