Hands-on: Facebook Video Calling vs. Google+ Hangout

The two social networking services have come out fighting; their main weapon may be video chat.

The Google-Facebook rivalry has intensified in the past several days. Last week, Google announced the limited launch of its new Google+ social network, including a video chat feature called Hangouts. Then, yesterday, Facebook launched its new Video Calling feature, powered by Skype. Clearly, social networking and video chat are now joined at the hip.

Which video chat service is better, and who should use which one? I put both Facebook Video Calling and Google+ Hangout through their paces and found that they both have their pros and cons.

Facebook's video chat is currently more stable, requires fewer system resources, and has higher-quality video and audio. On the other hand, Google+ Hangout is a more fully featured application, clearly designed for group video chat. Those who have made it into Google+ may find it buggy, but in the long run, Hangout could prove to be more useful than Facebook's video feature.

Facebook Video Calling

Facebook's new Video Calling service is powered by Skype; perhaps because of that, it's simple and straightforward to use. You'll first need to download a plug-in by going to www.facebook.com/videocalling, clicking on the Get Started button, then on the Setup button. At that point, you'll download and install a Java plug-in.

You don't, however, necessarily need to head there first. When you receive or try to make your first video call, you'll be prompted to install the plug-in. I found this out because when I tried going to www.facebook.com/videocalling on my MacBook Air, I received an error message. However, when I tried just clicking the video icon in Facebook chat to make a video call, the plug-in installed with no problems.

Once you've got the plug-in installed, making a video call is exceptionally easy. Look at the list of your friends (in the lower right-hand corner of your Facebook page) who are currently available on Facebook chat. Double-click a name, and you'll see there's a new icon at the top of the chat screen -- a small video camera. Click it to send an invitation for that person to participate in a video chat. They'll receive a pop-up notification to a video chat, and if they don't have the plug-in installed, they'll be prompted to install it.

I found the video and sound quality of video calling in Facebook to be quite good -- there was little, if any, video lag, and the sound came through crisp and clear with no delay. This shouldn't be a surprise; Skype has been around for a while, and so it has had time to iron out any video or audio bugs.

Using video chat is simple and straightforward -- just look at the camera and talk. As with most chat apps, the video of the person with whom you're chatting takes up most of the screen, and you see a small thumbnail of your own video in a corner of the screen. You can move the video chat screen around your display and resize it as well. Ready to sign off? Just put your cursor anywhere in the video window, and a small labeled button will invite you to end the session.

video chat
Once you've got the plug-in installed, making a Facebook video call is exceptionally easy.

One drawback to Facebook's video chat is that it's designed for one-on-one only. If you try to connect to a Facebook user already involved in a video chat, you'll be told that they're not available; you can leave a video message if you like.

All in all, there's nothing earthshaking about the capabilities of the new video chat feature, other than you can now easily chat with your friends, even if you or they don't have Skype. Its importance is its ease of use for Facebook users, not the depth of its feature set.

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Keith Shaw shows you the steps needed to make a video call within Facebook.

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