Skype's new beta with added conference calling features could be just what the doctor ordered for low-cost international meetings and planning sessions among family and friends. On Thursday, Skype 5.0 beta for Windows became available as a free download.

Instead of initiating video calls to just one other recipient, as in the stable version of Skype, you can host video chats for up to five people. Unfortunately, each of them has to have a Web cam and Skype 5.0 beta installed on a Windows PC in order for video conferencing to work. This limitation could get in testers' ways.

We got word about the update last week when Skype announced a new set of calling plans to benefit those calling mobile phones. We haven't had time to stage an elaborate overseas calling conference yet, but our plans are in the works, so watch this space for our hands-on evaluation.

Skype certainly isn't the first to bring video conferencing to everyday users. The free Skype competitor VoxOx offers video conferencing for up to three callers; the freemium ooVoo can support up to six.

If you do try out Skype's beta video party line, let us know in the comments what you think. Remember that beta software is neither as polished nor as stable as final software, so keep that in mind if you try out Skype 5.0 beta for Windows. Mac users can expect to see a version of Skype's group video calls for that computing platform later this year.

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.