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A Chance To Call 15 Friends To Video Chat In High Def

August 24, 2012 | Telepresence Options
There are lots of ways for consumers to conduct free one-to-one video calls on computers and mobile devices. The best known is Microsoft's Skype service, but there is Apple's FaceTime, a good service called Tango and others.

But what if consumers want to conduct a group video call, with multiple people in multiple places on multiple types of devices?

Such video conferences are ideal for disparate members of families, committees in organizations, teams working on projects, small seminars, or even just groups of friends. However, group video-calling services for consumers--especially free ones--are less well-known. Skype offers group video calling, but it requires a plan that costs about $10 a month.

Now, there is a new, independent, service called, launched on Tuesday, that offers free, high-definition, group video calls for up to 15 people simultaneously (Skype maxes out at 10.) It works over wired and Wi-Fi Internet connections, or cellular 3G and 4G networks. It comes from a small Silicon Valley start-up called Zoom Video Communications.

This new service not only features group video chatting, but also has text chatting and even allows any member of the group to share a computer screen with the others. It works on Macs, Windows PCs, iPhones and iPads, and any group call can be made with a mix of these devices. An Android version is planned for the fall.

I've been testing, and despite a few limitations, I like it a lot and can recommend it. In all but one of my tests, video was sharp and smooth, and all the features worked as promised.

One caveat: I tested a pre-release version at a time when there were only about 1,000 people using the service. It's possible that if millions use it, speed and quality could suffer, though the company denies that.

And for now, the service is entirely free, the company said, but down the road it may impose charges based on time used.

To use Zoom, you must have the free Zoom app, which can be downloaded and installed for PCs and Macs from the website or, for iPhones and iPads, obtained from Apple's app store. When you go to the site, you click on "start" or join a video meeting and it downloads the app. The interface is simple, and you don't have to join a new social network to use it. To initiate a call, you have to possess, and log in with, either a Gmail address or a Facebook account.

However, people you invite to join a call needn't have these credentials, or even log in. You can just send them an invitation with a link via email, instant message, or text message, or even phone them to provide a link and an ID number for the call. If they already have the Zoom app, the link takes them right into the call. If not, the app downloads and installs so they can join the meeting. You can even invite added people to join a call while it's in progress.

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