Choosing the right group video chat client

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Zoom, Skype, Facebook, and Google: Which one is right for you?

A laptop on a desk in Nashville shows people gathered together online for a virtual happy hour. (Jamie Lee Finch via AP)

(NEWS10) — Group video chats have become the standard method for communication in the age of social distancing. With Facebook rolling out a group video update called Messenger Rooms, there are four major services to choose from: Zoom, Skype from Microsoft, Google Hangouts, and Facebook Messenger.

All are available in-browser or through standalone apps and extensions on different platforms. In-browser web apps across the board are lighter, stripped-down versions.

Option 1: Zoom

Zoom is the current favorite, as it offers many customizable options for a reasonable price. Its most basic, free version allows unlimited one-to-one conversations. Up to 100 users can participate in a single video, with up to 49 screens visible at once. With the free package, group calls can only last 40 minutes, tops.

You can spend more on different Zoom packages and additional features. A Zoom Pro account costs $14.99 per month or $150 per year, and removes the 40-minute time limit. This tier includes video recording and added admin controls.

Your video meeting can expand to 500 people with the $50 per month Large Meeting add-on, or by spending more for Zoom’s Business package. The massive—and pricey—Enterprise package ups the limit to 1000.

Zoom is a complex program, providing tons of features. Multiple people can share their screens at once, there’s a transcriber, custom virtual backgrounds, encryption, and HD audio/video outputs. Zoom also includes optional gif support.

Option 2: Skype

Though Skype no longer has the market cornered as it did 10 or 15 years ago, it still likely has the most name recognition and comes pre-installed on the majority of office computers. Notably, Skype is free. It is more streamlined and user-friendly when compared to Zoom, at least at first.

Its “Meet Now” option is similar to Zoom, though it has a 50-person limit. Special features on Skype include background blurring, emojis, and recording features. Skype gives you the option of storing a recording of your meeting for up to 30 days.

Skype also integrates seamlessly with most Microsoft Windows applications and accounts.

Skype’s only paid feature is a charge to open up meetings to international callers.

Option 3: Google Hangouts/Google Meet

Google Hangouts was Google’s all-in-one chat client for several years, combining GChat, Google Voice, Google talk, and the defunct Google + social media platform with SMS text messaging. Google has since nerfed, limited, and separated many of these functions into different applications.

Today, Google Hangouts is a free program that lets you text chat with up to 150 users, or hold video meetings and phone calls with up to 25. You can hold an unlimited number of meetings or calls, international users are included, and there is no time limit. You need a Hangouts account to participate.

Through Google’s paid G-Suite platform for schools and businesses, Google Hangouts upgrades to Google Meet, which includes video conferencing for anyone with a Hangouts account. G-Suite has three tiers starting at $6 per month and includes many, many more resources and tools than video chat alone.

Normally, G-Suite’s $6 monthly package supports 25 participants—just like Hangouts—its $12 package includes 50 people, and its $25 package includes 100. Currently, because of the pandemic, Google has given all Meet customers access to an expanded, highest-tier option through September 30. This top tier supports as many as 250 people per meeting for any package.

Hangouts/Meet is much like Skype in its simplicity. Additional options are straightforward and intuitive, like group conferencing, intelligent muting, gif and emoji support, and solid integration with your Google account. Hangouts lets one user at a time share their screen in a video call.

Option 4: Facebook Messenger Rooms

Rolling out this week, Messenger Rooms expands Facebook’s native, standalone chat client. For now, it is completely free, and lets up to 50 individuals video chat with no time limits. Facebook says an account is not required, and that it has taken several privacy and security steps lacking in other video conferencing tools.

Users can create a Room directly in Messenger or in Facebook’s News Feed, Groups, and Events. The creator of the Room chooses who can see and join it, kicks people out if necessary, and locks a Room so new people cannot enter. Participants can leave any Room at any time.

You can implement augmented reality filters and effects like bunny ears, and features like immersive backgrounds, and mood lighting. Messenger supports support for an extensive gif and emoji library, and it obviously syncs perfectly with your Facebook account. Features for people who are not logged in to Facebook are not as robust.

From a security standpoint, Facebook allows you to report a Room for violating its community standards. Reports do not include audio or video, because Facebook says they do not listen to or watch—or, it implies without stating outright, record—audio or video calls.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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