Google Launches Free Video Chat Service

Google is getting into the video chat game with a new feature available as of Tuesday. Gmail Video and Voice offers Webcam-based video conferencing to all Gmail users. The service is available free of charge.

How It Works

Gmail Video and Voice requires a browser plug-in and either a microphone (for straight audio chatting) or a Webcam (for video and audio chatting) to function. The plug-in -- a proprietary, non-Flash-based system -- runs about 2MB and supports Chrome, Firefox 2.0+, Internet Explorer 7.0, and Safari 3.0. As of now, the video chat service will not be made available within the standalone Google Talk application.

Once the plug-in is installed, all you do is click on a contact within your Gmail Chat list. If they also have the required software, a camera icon will pop up next to their name and let you initiate a two-way multimedia session. If they don't have the hardware, you can still start a one-way session in which they'll be able to see and hear you, even if you can't see and hear them. The service is expected to be fully rolled out to all Gmail users by the end of Tuesday.

The technology, by the way, comes from Google's acquisition of video conferencing software by Marratech last year. Google hired the engineers involved in the software, at the time declining to reveal its ultimate plans.

See For Yourself

A Gmail engineer demonstrates the process in the following video:

Ups and Downs

Gmail Video and Voice is a basic system and seems more geared toward casual use than large-scale corporate use at this point. Unlike services such as Skype Premium, the system doesn't let you connect to regular phone numbers -- only to other Gmail Chat users. It also doesn't offer a recording option and doesn't permit conferences with more than two people.

With that being said, it's another notch in Gmail's ever-expanding belt of integrated services and could prove to be a handy addition for users already logged into the system. Within the scope of Web-based e-mail, Gmail Video and Voice ends up being another whistle that'll further set Gmail apart from its competing platforms.

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