Facebook announced its new video chat service this week in partnership with Microsoft-owned Skype. It follows hot on the heels of Google's video service which launched as part of the firm's Google+ social network last week.
We've now managed to use both services, giving us an insight into the strengths and weaknesses of both.
Installation and setup
The Google installation is simple but seemed to take a while. Once it's set up, you should be able to get chatting straight away. However, it's worth pointing out that on two machines we've used there have been problems with the audio. On the first, a desktop computer, we couldn't hear what the other party was saying. We were able to fix this by going into the setup window and changing the sound card manually (our test PC has a soundcard with two output interfaces).
On the second PC, for some reason the 'echo cancelation' option was conflicting with something, but switching this off fixed the problem.
With Facebook, on the other hand, everything was much simpler. Just install the app, then go. It seems, at the moment, that Facebook isn't opening its video chat to everyone. We went via a URL provided by the press office, which allowed us to trigger chats with people. Normal Facebook users may find that their video chat option isn't yet switched on. Facebook says it will be over the next few weeks.
Call and video quality
In our opinion, Facebook steals the quality show too. When we first tried it, the video was poor and the audio was garbled and almost impossible to understand. However, checking the next day yielded much improved results. Video and audio were both impressive and the sound was very clear indeed.
Google's system, on the other hand, doesn't appear to be as high quality. It's perfectly serviceable, though, and we had no major problems with the sound quality. The video was OK, aside from some extra blocking that we didn't see on the Facebook stream.
However, Google comes into its own when you have multiple users. The video is well laid out onscreen, and each user has a small video box showing their camera feed. When a user starts speaking the software automatically switches the video to show that person in the larger, main video window.