7 low-cost videoconferencing services: Which is best for your meeting?

Remote colleagues and friends are the norm today. We look at 7 online services that help you keep in touch.

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Citrix GoToMeeting

Price: $49/month or $468/year for up to 25 attendees; free 30-day trial

Platforms: Windows, OS X, iOS, Android

There's little question Citrix's GoToMeeting is aimed at professionals. Your first clue is the pricing: There is no free version. It starts at $49 per month for up to 25 participants; after that, there are a variety of other plans that increase the number of attendees and add a variety of features.

Most of the programs in this roundup organize their multiple components -- the videos of participants, control panels, etc. -- in a single window. GoToMeeting has multiple floating windows, which can be immensely distracting. Webcams and video chat take place in one detached desktop window; the control panel for the meeting (which sports a lot of options) is in a second; and a third little floating panel holds icons for common functions like whiteboarding or camera/microphone control. The main control panel is divided into subpanels that can be expanded or collapsed so you can tuck away uneeeded options, but overall it feels a lot more cluttered and busy than it should.

Citrix GoToMeeting
GoToMeeting participants can share individual windows or the whole desktop,

GoToMeeting offers a number of nice features, including dial-in support for voice chats so you can include people who only have a phone; GoToMeeting provides access via a toll or (for an extra fee) toll-free number. Finally, there's a slew of useful features: the ability to share your screen with other participants or let them take control of your system, the ability to schedule meetings directly through the GoToMeeting system, and the ability to record session activity to a file. GoToMeeting users can join in from a Mac, Windows PC, Android or iOS device, and meetings can be started up ad-hoc or scheduled ahead of time.

One of the outstanding features GoToMeeting offers is HDFaces, which allows up to six 640-x-480-pixel camera streams on a participant's screen at once. You need at least 700Kbps bandwidth to participate in an HDFaces session, which makes it a dodgy proposition for those using flaky public Wi-Fi or a 3G network. The meeting organizer has control over whose cameras are shown in an HDFaces session, so that if you have a meeting with, say, ten people, you can focus on three or four of them at a time -- not just to save bandwidth, but also to preserve the focus of the meeting.

Other really worthwhile features include the screen sharing and annotation functions, which includes whiteboarding. I liked how the latter allows you to draw not just in a confined area, but can be used to annotate any shared window or item on your desktop.

GoToMeeting does natively support recording meetings, but it's limited. For example, the audio of a meeting is recordable, and you can capture the contents of shared screens and presentations, but isolated feeds from participants cannot be recorded except as part of capturing a shared screen. On Windows PCs, meetings can be recorded in the Windows Media Player video format, or with GoToMeeting's proprietary lossless G2M2 codec. Don't pick this last option if you have Mac users: the G2M2 codec is only available for Windows.

Bottom line

GoToMeeting is a useful, higher-end conferencing service. However, its quality video and interactivity features are hampered somewhat by its limited conference-recording function and crowded user interface.

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GoToMeeting follows whoever is speaking, lets you share specific application windows and includes an annotation system.

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