ooVoo is a free, standalone desktop chat application that has both a text and video chat capabilities. Its official launch is next week, but the beta has been available since mid April. I took it for a spin this morning and came away impressed.
There are a ton of chat clients out there, so one of the things it has done to differentiate itself is multiperson video chat. ooVoo can handle as many as six people in one video conference, which is two more than what iChat is capable of. Users can drop in and out of conversations, and the video windows will scale with a similar effect to iChat's "swoop." Along with video, users can chat among themselves with their computer's microphone or a headset. There are volume controls for both speakers and the microphone right in the chat window, a handy addition.
I found the video and audio to be fairly clear, even when topped off at six users. ooVoo's creators tell me that when running full six-user video, it will take up only half the bandwidth on a low-end DSL connection. Assuming you're not downloading or uploading large files in the background, your connection shouldn't drag to a halt.
In addition to live video and text chat, ooVoo doubles as a video e-mail service. Users can send each other video messages as long as a minute in length that are available right in the app or via e-mail. Users who get the e-mail are also provided a link that takes them to a live flash version of the video, so they can access it while away from their home machine.
For people interested in adding a quick way to be reached on their social networking profile or Web site, ooVoo gives users the option to embed a quick contact button that will automatically launch an ooVoo conversation if installed. I've posted an example image of this on the left side of this post.
ooVoo is not alone in the multiperson video chat space; competitor SightSpeed also offers a free video and text chat service. The main difference is that SightSpeed is aimed at businesses and limits video chat to four users at a time with a monthly subscription fee.
ooVoo is currently available only for Windows users, although the team is releasing a beta for Macs in about six weeks. Users on both platforms will be able to chat with one another using the same client.
You can download ooVoo over at CNET's Download.com. For more shots of the service, keep reading.