Saturday, 9 July 2011

Google+ Hangouts vs. Facebook Video Calling

Now that Facebook has unveiled its Skype-powered video chat service, we can ask: How does it compare to Google’s new video chat product, Google+ Hangouts?
Last week, the search giant unveiled its social network, which in turn is a collection of new Google products. One of them, Hangouts, allows up to 10 people to simultaneously engage in a group chat. The main video feed switches based on who is speaking in the microphone. We’ve previously said that Hangouts may be Google+’s killer feature


 On Wednesday, Facebook responded with one-on-one video chat powered by Skype. (You can access the video-calling feature here: facebook.com/videocalling.) The social network touts how easy it is to initiate a Facebook video chat. And since Facebook has 750 million users, it’s likely to be a popular product with the masses.

 Facebook Video Calling

Facebook's new Video Calling service is powered by Skype; perhaps because of that, it's simple and straightforward to use. You'll first need to download a plug-in by going to www.facebook.com/videocalling, clicking on the Get Started button, then on the Setup button. At that point, you'll download and install a Java plug-in.
You don't, however, necessarily need to head there first. When you receive or try to make your first video call, you'll be prompted to install the plug-in. I found this out because when I tried going towww.facebook.com/videocalling on my MacBook Air, I received an error message. However, when I tried just clicking the video icon in Facebook chat to make a video call, the plug-in installed with no problems.


Once you've got the plug-in installed, making a video call is exceptionally easy. Look at the list of your friends (in the lower right-hand corner of your Facebook page) who are currently available on Facebook chat. Double-click a name, and you'll see there's a new icon at the top of the chat screen -- a small video camera. Click it to send an invitation for that person to participate in a video chat. They'll receive a pop-up notification to a video chat, and if they don't have the plug-in installed, they'll be prompted to install it.
One drawback to Facebook's video chat is that it's designed for one-on-one only. If you try to connect to a Facebook user already involved in a video chat, you'll be told that they're not available; you can leave a video message if you like.

 


Google+ Hangout

Google+ Hangout is more fully featured than Facebook Video Calling -- to begin with, it's designed primarily for group chats rather than one-on-one talks -- but, possibly because it's a beta, it's still got a few wrinkles to iron out.
As with Facebook, if you haven't used Hangout before, you'll be prompted to install a plug-in the first time you click on the "Start a hangout" button. Once it's installed, you're ready to go. Creating a Hangout is as simple as pressing theStart a hangout button on the right side of your main "stream" page (in Google+, your stream is the comments and notifications you get from everyone else). A separate video window then opens -- this is your "hangout."



Google+ Hangout is designed primarily for group chats rather than one-on-one talks.
As with the streams in Google+, you need to keep in mind whom you want to invite to your Hangout -- and that depends on which circle(s) you choose. As I described in my recent review, Google+ is based on the idea of circles -- you group friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances into separate circles, so that it's easy to determine what kinds of information you want to share with each of those different groups.
You can create a Hangout for a single circle, multiple circles, or all your circles. Just as with the rest of Google+, the Hangout feature is designed to put you in charge. So if you're viewing all comments and notifications from your Family circle, for example, and you click "Start a hangout," only people in your Family circle will see that you've started a hangout and only they can participate. If you are viewing the stream that shows comments and notifications from all circles, everyone in all of your circles will see that you've started a Hangout and can participate. (You can have a video chat with up to 10 people.)

You can change who you want to invite. After the video window opens, you have a chance to switch which circles will get the notice that there's a Hangout by removing the existing circle(s) and adding others. (So, for example, you can remove the Family circle and replace it with your Work circle instead.) You can also add individual invitations by simply typing in the names of those you want to invite (assuming, of course, that they're members of Google+).

The Hangout pop-out window is larger than the one that appears for Facebook Video Calling. You see a large video of the person to whom you're talking in the main part of the screen. Across the bottom of the screen, there are thumbnails of everyone in the chat, including you.

When more than two people participate in a Hangout, the large image shows whoever is talking -- Hangout chooses which person will be center stage depending on audio feedback. If several people talk at the same time, the video goes back and forth from one to another.

Google+ offers a number of interesting features with Hangout. You can text-chat while you video-chat, and you can also mute your audio and video. And if you're tired of talking to each other, you can watch a video: Hangout also has a YouTube button that gives all participants the ability to watch the same YouTube video. It appears on the main video window, with everyone's thumbnails still below it; once the YouTube video starts, everyone's audio is temporarily muted so they can hear it. If you want to talk with others while you're watching a YouTube video, there is a button that will let you do so (but you have "hold it down" -- as soon as it's released, the mute goes back into effect).

There's also a Settings button that detects your audio and video devices and lets you change them, and helps you troubleshoot potential video and audio problems.

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