If you’ve ever wanted to watch funny cat videos on YouTube with the President via a direct video call to the White House, your dream is tantalizingly, frustratingly close at hand.
And that’s not a comment on the video preferences of the President.
To accomplish the feat you need three things:
- The President
- A way of simultaneously viewing both in a video call
Veteran video conferencing platform ooVoo can accomplish #1 (kind of) and #2 (definitely), but it falls just short of #3. You see, the service is in something of a transition phase where its smartphone and PC offerings differ significantly.
The PC version offers live, shared YouTube streams, and the smartphone version offers avatars and masks (hence the “kind of”), but neither feature is common across devices.
That incompatibility, along with the platform’s long-time advertising bugbear, brings ooVoo down a notch among social-centered video calling providers. Which is unfortunate, because this innovative service is on the cusp of social media revolution, and otherwise deserves all its 125 million users.
A Veteran Video Caller
ooVoo has been around for more than a decade now, and in its infancy it was seen as a serious threat to Skype’s video calling dominance. However, the two have gone down very separate paths in their digital middle age.
Under the Microsoft umbrella, Skype has been targeted toward the enterprise crowd, led by Skype for Business and the development of conference room technologies.
ooVoo, by design or defeat, has instead focused on social video calling, and continues to use more frivolous ways to appeal to a younger audience:
And it’s doing an impressive job, for the most part.
It’s available across Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, as well as PC, and in all cases it comes equipped with Facebook and directory auto-loading to get you connected to friends immediately.
The service is cloud-based and offers impressive visual and audio quality, with lots of options to scale your stream size to match your connection. It also has the features to match any major service, with screen sharing, call recording, offline video messaging, direct uploading to YouTube, the ability to take and share snapshots of a live conversation, and even a WebRTC-compatible software development kit that lets developers use its tech to embed video calling within their own websites.
They’ve also taken care on the security front so that you can avoid any Yik Yak-style privacy concerns.
ooVoo’s group video can handle up to 12 people on PC and up to four on mobile…and that kind of difference is where the confusion sets in.
Less Than the Sum of Its Parts
When hosting a video call across PC and smartphone–Android in this case–it does feel like you’re using two different services.
The greater processing power of the PC is rewarded with a fuller suite of features, while the mobile app focuses more on trying to sell you a new avatar or video effect (by the by, if you’re the owner of an Intel RealSense video camera, you can access some remarkably vivid and realistic avatars for PC).
The disparity is at its most stark when you use ooVoo’s strongest PC feature–live streaming YouTube within a group video call.
The idea of shared consumption of third-party streaming content has the potential to let remote users recreate the real-world social experience of watching TV, music, movies, and live sports with friends in your living room, at a bar, or a concert venue. It’s a great point of difference from Skype, and a nod toward a younger generation of social networkers.
The YouTube feature dominates the PC interface, and with a click of a button you’re presented with a search engine, a chance to paste a direct URL, and a selection of trending videos. Among PC callers it’s a great way to waste an hour just hanging out, sharing your favorite YouTube oddities.
Add a mobile caller to the mix and it falls apart. PC callers can see the stream and the mobile user, while the smartphone relays only the user chat windows. So that poor soul is left to watch everyone react to video they can only experience through leaking audio.
Given that the Millennial generation favors mobile video calling over other devices, it’s pretty much essential ooVoo finds a way to make the service mobile. There’s also the small problem of other providers, namely Rabbit and Airtime, already providing the same function, and with more content providers…albeit, for now, with a smaller user base.
And there’s one more problem to face.
The Almighty Advertising Dollar
ooVoo has an inherent credibility problem. There are simply too many ads. Major video conferencing providers, and the emerging niche WebRTC platforms are pristine, ad-free communication spaces.
ooVoo is overrun with them.
You can pay a $1 annual fee to have them removed from your smartphone, but on PC you’re stuck with the dang things. The affinity with YouTube has run so far as to include the same browsing history-fuelled banner ads.
There was a time when you could also upgrade the PC version to a premium, ad-free version, but the move toward an “always free” philosophy means the tiered setup has disappeared.With the top rate visuals and audio here, if you could take the ads away, open up shared streaming to the mobile crowd, and expand the list of content providers, ooVoo might actually be a service far beyond anything Skype could aspire to.