Yesterday, some friends and I got together to give the new Google+’s video chat service Hangout a crack. It worked very very well. I needed to install a plugin for Safari before I could use the service, but it downloaded and installed quickly, and without having to restart the machine or the browser. I imagine this is built into Chrome.
It was easy to start a ‘hangout’, easy to join one, easy to invite someone (who’s browser crashed and had to be invited back in. Does anyone know if you can see your friends hanging out and just join, or request to join, without an invite?). It was much simpler than I had imagined, coming from Skype or iChat. Both these tools can be fiddly when setting up more than a two-person chat. In fact, I’m not sure Skype even does it. Hangout can support up to 10 (!!!) feeds at once. I can’t find any videos with the full 10 feeds running yet, but I’m sure they’ll come.
The technology used in Google+ Hangout is pretty awesome. As you can see from the image above, there are thumbnails of everyone underneath a main video feed. Depending on who’s currently talking or moving, the main video feed switches! This is a great idea! It works extremely well too, however it will be much better when they remove the split second flicker between switches.
If the switching gets a bit much — if everyone’s talking at the same time, for example — you can simply tap one of the thumbnail video feeds below and the main feed will lock on that person. Tap the thumbnail again to unlock. Very good.
We will be using Google+ Hangout for our eDinners from now on. For one-on-one chat, I think I’ll still be using Skype. At least with the less-nerdy people. At least for now.
Note: Google+ icon was adapted from Orman Clark’s work. Saved me a bunch of time. Cheers :)