Video calls are easy with AV by AOL

AV by AOL is a very simple and easy to use video calling and conferencing tool that is free and entirely web-based.

It allows you to connect with anyone else who has internet and a cam, without signing up for anything and without annoying or complicated installations. With a zero price tag and minimal distractions on the chat window itself, AV by AOL (AVbA) is a winner in my book.

I’ve used and tried a lot of different audio/video programs for the PC, and few of them have compared to AVbA in simplicity and ease of use. When going to their website you are presented with very little in terms of how many things you can click on next.

There’s a huge button that says “Start a video chat” and, immediately apparent, a check box with the promise “I am at least 13 years old” next to it. You have to fill in the check box before clicking the button. if you don’t you get a message at the bottom of the screen telling you that’s a no-no.

Once you click the button with the box checked, you are taken to a page where you will be asked to verify that it is ok for your camera and/or microphone to communicate with the internet. Click the allow option and a window of your cam or a placeholder image pops up. Now you get a shortened ‘magic’ link that you can give to anyone else and they can follow it to join you on your video chat. There’s a spot above each person’s window, for their name, and a text bar beneath it for chatting. You can have up to four people chatting at once, anywhere in the world that can access the page can use it, for free.

That’s it. That’s all there is to the whole thing. AVbA gets full marks for simplicity and, thereby, ease of use. There’s nothing to sign up for, it can communicate with Facebook and with AIM users just as easily as anyone else that has internet access. There’s nothing to install, software-wise, and no account to create. It requires Flash player, but that is standard on most browsers anyway. Just open the page, give out your link, and start chatting.

The quality of the few chats I tried varied. The first one was between myself and my best friend, who lives in the same state as me. The video quality of my own cam on my end was decent, but the video quality of my best friend’s cam on my end was a bit choppy. The same, reversed, was true on my friend’s end. The second test I performed was on two computers in the same house. The quality was essentially the same as the first test. The third test I tried was from my computer to a friend in another country. The quality was the same. It was a little choppy, but certainly not unbearable, and it is still something to be said that the quality was, at least, consistent no matter where I

AV Screenshot 1

was chatting to.

Bearing in mind that each of the computers I used in my tests may have also varied in their capabilities, the quality was still consistent, if not superb. Also, I think, if it’s a new service, it’s quite possible they may improve the quality over time. Each chat I tried was less than ten minutes long, and there weren’t any disconnections. The one real glitch was when I attempted to change my view from portrait to landscape, making my cam image wider. My feed on the other end of the chat, I’m told, went black at that point and didn’t return. There’s no telling, for sure, what the real cause of that was, but it was notable as the only real problem that occurred in all the tests. I was impressed with that kind of quality data in a free video service, but there you have it.

So far, there’s no specifically sponsored mobile app available, not that I could find, anyway. That’s a shame but still, they may come out with one in the future if they have enough people using the web-based version first. Overall, I found AV by AOL to be a great way to do free video chat. You don’t have to have a cam or a mic to use the service. You could just use it to have a chat, but it’s really designed for video chatting and I would suggest it to anyone who wants a supremely easy way of doing so. There’s not much else to say about this one. Simple, easy, elegant. It’s a great example of making decent software solutions available for free. It’s especially useful for setting up video chat with folks who aren’t so computer literate, or even ones that have trouble reading the screen. AVbA is also a nice solution when using someone else’s computer for a video chat, as nothing to install means you don’t leave a mess in their registry. What would you use it for most?

Until next time, my friends.

[Thanks to reader Panzer for letting us know about this one].

Requires: Internet connection (prefers broadband), User age minimum is 13.

Available here.


 
 
 
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  • http://carbonize.co.uk Carbonize

    You forgot to mention that this services is Flash based and so requires you to have Flash installed.

    As this is going through a server the quality will never be as good as a video chat that is peer to peer as they have to preserve bandwidth.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, P2P via UDP on a private network is awesome, but it seems to receive lower priority on internet networks at large. So the TCP server based solution works out better and more consistently.

  • http://about.me/shawncarnell Shawn Carnell

    Disclosure: I work on AV. Thanks for the review!

    @Carbonize:

    Depends. P2P in Flash is UDP and some networks treat UDP so badly that the quality ends up being lower than using a TCP solution. We tried both extensively.

    Wrt Flash, yeah, i’m not fond of Flash either but you have to us a browser extension to access the camera and mic (currently) and Flash seemed the lesser of several evils. Most of the app is HTML/JS fwiw.