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Product Reviews
February 2001


Eyeball Chat Limited Edition (LE) 
with beta of Multi-party Conferencing

Eyeball.com Network Inc.
500�100 Park Royal
West Vancouver, B.C.
Canada, V7T 1A2
Ph: 604-921-5993; Fx: 604-921-5909

Price: Free for Eyeball Chat LE;
Eyeball Chat is charged a monthly subscription fee based on usage.

Editor's Choice Award

Installation: 4.5
Documentation: 4.75
Features: 4.25
GUI: 4.5
Overall: B+

Although video communications have been around for a while, there has recently been a resurgence in the field because of the improvements in quality and the integration of video and VoIP capabilities over the Internet. Eyeball Chat is one such application that enables face-to-face interactions over the Internet for both personal and business use. No matter how a user connects to the Internet (dial-up, DSL, cable modem, LAN, etc.), Eyeball Chat should bring you quality video and audio communication. The more bandwidth you have at your disposal, the better the video and audio quality will be. Furthermore, the quality of the camera will affect the overall video performance, although the Eyeball Chat software can aid that performance.

We received a few accounts from Eyeball.com so that we could test various aspects of Eyeball Chat, and we downloaded the software for our Windows 2000 clients. Because we downloaded with a T1 LAN connection, this only took a few moments, as did the software installation. The whole process was quick and simple.

We also tried the software installation on Windows 98 clients and found a bug when InstallShield tried to run the setup. This bug caused InstallShield to stop. Technical support at Eyeball.com knew about the bug, so we were easily able to solve the problem by deleting a specific folder in the "InstallShield Installation Information" folder. The version of Eyeball Chat that we were using was still in beta, so we assume that the bug was remedied in the gold version, but it is worth mentioning.

It should be noted that the diagnostic software, DirectX v.7.0 or higher should be installed on the PC in order to use the full functionality of the Eyeball Chat software. DirectX is easily downloaded from the Microsoft Web site.

All of the help documentation is located at Eyeball.com's Web site. If the software is already installed, you can access these files by pressing "F1" on your keyboard or clicking the "?" button on the software. This brings up a Web page that informs you of most of what there is to know about Eyeball Chat through Get Started, Tutorial, and FAQ links. These pages detail the functionality of the application rather well by supplying information about the specific buttons in the software, and how to accomplish certain tasks. Screenshots accompanied much of the information.

The following is a list of the key features of Eyeball Chat LE, which is the free version of Eyeball Chat:

  • Support of a proprietary media delivery technology for the purpose of better video quality.
  • Provision for a contact list to monitor online/offline status and to enable users to quickly initiate a video chat session.
  • A control of picture size, frame rate, and audio performance, and other media quality attributes (to a certain degree).

The additional features of Eyeball Chat include:

  • Multi-party conferencing -- up to six people can video chat.
  • Video messaging -- record, send, and play video messages.
  • Web-based access -- initiate video chat session and view video messages from any browser.

Since some elements of Eyeball Chat were not ready at the time we were testing the product, we stuck to reviewing the limited edition aspects. We also examined a beta version of the multi-party video conferencing. After opening the Eyeball Chat LE software, the main interface appeared, as did a preview video window and a contact list window. These windows could easily be moved around to anywhere on the monitor screen but could not be resized. We added some Eyeball IDs to the contact list and were ready to make a video call to an Eyeball representative... but were unsuccessful. We realized right away that the problem was the firewall on our LAN. We opened up the appropriate ports and were now really ready to go. The call connected with the videos for both the sides of the call displayed. We clicked the little button on the top left of the main interface (you can also right-click to access these settings), selected "View," and checked "Statistics." This brought up the video, audio, and connection statistics for the call .

To test the latency of the VoIP call, we made another call across the lab and timed the delay between when the voice was spoken and when we heard it on the phone. The delay was less than a second and the sound quality was good, as it was on the call to the Eyeball representative. These calls were made using Eyeball Chat LE on both clients. We could not make an Eyeball Chat LE to NetMeeting call because the VoIP protocol being used was proprietary to Eyeball.com.

To improve the quality of a call, you can customize the Personal Quality Profile for receiver priority, frame rate, picture quality, and audio quality. You can also change the media settings, such as changing the receive picture size, the speaker and microphone volume, and the option to use audio only.

Next, we were ready to try the multi-party mode, which was a beta version added to the Eyeball Chat LE software only for the purpose of our testing. We clicked the "Begin Chat" button, checked the "Multi-party mode" box, and selected the Eyeball contacts we wanted for the three-way conference. The call connected and we could see the video for all of the participating contacts. We were able to hear each other with little echo even when we all spoke at the same time.

Some of the suggestions we have are already planned for Eyeball Chat v1.1. These improvements include text chat in case the audio is not clear or not working or for chatting with another person in the conference when someone else has the floor. There also will be a link to Eyeball's Web site from the contact list so that searches for particular Eyeball IDs can be made more easily. In addition, there will be the option to snap together all of the Windows of the client software to ensure a cleaner and more useable interface. We noticed this last functionality missing from the second we first opened the client, so this is certainly a welcome addition. The GUI would also benefit from being able to resize any of the windows, not just specific ones.

Other improvements include allowing Eyeball Chat to be firewall friendly, being interoperable with other equipment, and allowing for application sharing. Some similar applications have already adopted some form of a firewall friendly feature. Even though Eyeball Chat is primarily intended for home users, more and more homes are now using firewalls. Also, there is use for this type of software in small offices. We understand that Eyeball.com uses a proprietary protocol to optimize the audio and video quality, but we think that the VoIP protocols out there have their merits. Being able to interoperate with products such as NetMeeting would be very beneficial to all users, and may allow for some form of application sharing as well.

Eyeball.com is well on its way to making a fine video conferencing product. Even though there is room for improvement, the video and audio quality can be very good, especially with a first-rate camera. The settings are very customizable, and its floating interface has its pluses. For these reasons, and especially for the multi-party conferencing abilities, we think Eyeball Chat deserves our highest honor.

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