SightSpeed provides video chat and video conferencing services for home and business users. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the company announced a new Web-based version of its video chat service called SightSpeed Light that requires no software download or installation.

SightSpeed Light uses Flash, so it will work with most popular Web browsers. The company plans to integrate the service with social networks such as LinkedIn, Plaxo,, MySpace, and others. This should be an important addition to its existing line of communications services.

What’s the benefit?

Both personal and business users can benefit from being able to see the person(s) with whom they’re communicating. Text (e.g., e-mail, IMs) and even voice don’t always fully convey the message we’re attempting to get across. The ability to view facial expressions and body language can be invaluable whether you’re having a conversation with a loved one or negotiating a contract with a business partner.

There are, of course, many products and services available for video communications. SightSpeed offers several different levels of service based on need and budget. The company divides its offerings into two categories — personal and business — but there’s some overlap in the features.

Video Chat

The most basic level of personal service is free. You do need to download the software for the current service. It’s available for both Macintosh and Windows computers; it’s a little under 7 MB for the Windows version and a bit over twice that size for the Mac version. The Windows version works with Windows 2000 Service Pack 4, Windows XP, or Windows Vista; the Mac version requires OS X 10.3.9 or above.

Once you’ve installed the software and logged on using the account name and password you created, you can conduct one-to-one video chats, make VoIP calls, and send instant messages. You can also record and send video e-mail messages that work with any e-mail program. The free version limits video e-mails to 30 seconds, and it stores the last 30 days of your video e-mail messages in your video mail inbox.

SightSpeed PLUS costs $9.95 per month. It includes all the same functionality as the free version, but it also offers unlimited video storage instead of just the last 30 days, three minutes of recording time for video e-mail messages, and an online report of your complete call history. You can also make four-way conference calls; you can even purchase a toll-free number, so others can call you without paying long-distance charges.

SightSpeed Business

The pricing for the business version of SightSpeed is on a per-seat basis. The single-seat plan costs $19.95 per month or $189.95 per year. Or you can save money with a five-, 10-, or 50-seat package deal. (Check out the full price list.)

In addition, you can try out the trial version for 15 days at no cost, and there’s a 30-day money back guarantee that offers a full refund if you aren’t satisfied with the service.

Along with the same unlimited video calling and video mail that you get with the personal versions, business users are able to participate in multi-party video conferences, share files between participants within a call, and make recordings of their video and voice calls for archiving and later reference.

The VoIP functionality of the service provides free PC-to-PC calling (like Skype and other services) and long-distance calls to standard telephones at rates starting at two cents per minute. If you make more than a few calls, there are less expensive VoIP plans (such as Lingo, which provides for unlimited calling within the United States, Canada, western Europe, and Australia for a low monthly rate), but those are generally not targeted at business customers.

The business plan also offers easy centralized management of users, with an administrative console through which you can share contact lists and centrally buy and allocate calling minutes. Detailed reports let you track usage and cost on an employee-by-employee basis.

What about security?

Of course, security is a big concern for most businesses today. When your calls and conferences going over the Internet deal with sensitive company information, you have to make sure no one can intercept them and misuse the information.

SightSpeed uses a technology called change frames as part of its compression scheme. This requires having the entire data stream in order to decrypt any part of the conversation.

You can also encrypt the peer-to-peer data stream between two endpoints with 3DES or AES (128- or 256-bit keys), and you can use plug-in encryption modules to add greater security. Traffic between the SightSpeed server and client (used to initiate calls, log on, add and remove contacts ,and manage membership information) sports 128-bit SSL encryption.

Is it worth it?

Looking at the whole package, what do you get with SightSpeed that makes it worth the monthly fee? How does it compare to other peer-to-peer communications services such as Skype?

If all you need is VoIP, there are less expensive alternatives that work just as well or better. For instance, Skype’s business plan lets you have up to 10 participants in a conference call, while SightSpeed limits you to four.

But the video conferencing feature is where SightSpeed shines. Video quality for the business service is high. However, I suggest that you do a pilot program and try out the different services for yourself to determine which one best fits your needs.

VoIP and video are the wave of the future, and SightSpeed offers an attractive package, especially with the upcoming Web-based service that you’ll be able to use from any computer without installing software. Whether you’re calling for business or pleasure, it helps to be able to see who you’re talking to.

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