Google recently announced a much-anticipated addition to the Google Talk service. In addition to being able to sent text instant messages from within the Google Mail system, users can now conduct voice and video chats -- all from within the browser. After users download a Google-provided plugin, they will see "Video and More" in the conventional chat window. Other IM systems, such as MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Chat, have had voice/video capabilities, but Google just added the feature. However, is this product a "Skype killer" like some are saying?

What Video and Voice Mean

Video and voice features bring a whole new element to online communication. We have long had IM to exchange quick messages, but being able to use video makes the experience much more human. Google's implementation of Google IM and video provides a seamless way of being able to add video to a conversation on-the-fly. Once engaged in a video call, text is a good way to augment the conversation, say, when you want to swap links or product names.

Getting Started

To get going with a voice/video conversation in Google Talk, start by installing the plug-in. Please note that, at this point, the new feature will only work on Windows PC's running Windows XP or Vista, and Macs running OS X 10.4 or newer. Luckily, a wide array of browsers is supported including Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari. Also, Google Talk with Video and Voice only works while using the Google Talk functionality inside Gmail. The downloadable Windows Google Talk client and Google Desktop sidebar widget products do not support video chat at this time. And finally, connecting to Google Talk with your favorite Jabber IM client will not be able to utilize video and voice either. Google Talk With Voice Screenshot
Google Talk With Voice

Putting Video To The Test

We tested video and voice in a conversation with a friend based out of Seattle, Washington. We were both using our on-board iSight cameras and on-board microphones on our MacBook computers. The quality was very good in both the audio and video categories. It was obvious that Google spent a lot of time with noise cancellation, as neither party heard echo that is common with such video conferencing products on the Macintosh. One nice feature: you can go full screen with the video. Also, if you are having a video conversation with someone who doesn't have a camera (meaning, they're only on a microphone), Google Talk will show you their avatar image that's loaded into Google Mail, if the user has loaded one.

Skype Killer?

We have used Google Talk with Video and while the quality was good, it wasn't as crystal clear as Skype conversations. Also, Skype has the ability to do high quality video at much higher resolutions than the new Google video feature. We would agree with Skype Journal's Jim Courtney in saying that Google Talk with video and voice is a great way to integrate video into an e-mail or chat stream, but as a high-quality reliable video service it falls short when compared to Skype. As an added bonus for Skype, all Skype-to-Skype video calls, voice calls, IM conversations and file transfers are encrypted, unlike with Google Talk with Voice.

Conclusion

Google Talk's new feature is a fantastic tool for those wanting to have a quick video chat with their colleagues, friends or family. It's very easy to use and is very well-integrated into the Gmail experience. Additionally, you can now have access to video chats with all your existing Google Talk contacts -- very powerful! We hope to see Google integrate video with more than just the Gmail Web interface and bring the feature to the Google Desktop Sidebar and Windows Google Talk client. However, overall, the inclusion of video and voice are a step ahead for an already strong IM product.