In an age when we can watch live TV on our phones, video calling is the obvious next step. AT&T takes us one step closer to that with Video Share, its one-way video-streaming service. Video Share delivers good quality and has plenty of potential uses, but with expensive per-minute pricing and compatibility with only four phones, this service is for early adopters only (view our photo gallery).
For many customers, the price will be an immediate deal breaker. AT&T offers two plans: $4.99 for 25 minutes and $9.99 for 60. You can also opt for a pay-as-you-go plan and shell out 35 cents per minute. Those unfazed by the cost must be within AT&T's 3G network and own one of four Video Share-capable phones: the LG Trax, the Samsung SGH-a717, the Samsung SGH-a727, or the Samsung Sync. (The phased-out LG CU500v is also Video Share-compatible.)
The service is easy to use. While on a voice call, just press a soft key and then select the Video Share option. The Video Share option appeared in three seconds, and our invitation showed up on our caller's screen in another three seconds. Once our caller accepted, he saw live video in about two seconds. Switching the direction of the video can be cumbersome, however, and requires ending the call.
On paper, Video Share's quality is fairly low--just 15 frames per second--but our tests showed decent color and minimal latency. Even in low light, our video remained bright. To give your friend a fuller picture, you can zoom with the push of a button. In addition, the SGH-a717 and the CU500v have rotating cameras that let you film with the display facing you.
Once a connection is established, the phone automatically switches to speakerphone, so you can talk and watch at the same time. The voice quality on our Samsung SGH-a717 was only average to begin with, but on speakerphone it took on an irritating echo. To avoid driving your neighbors--and yourself--crazy, we recommend using a Bluetooth headset.
The service also lets you save footage after ending a video call. Because of the video's low quality, our two-minute clip took up only 853K out of 50MB of space. Being able to watch old footage might help justify the service's high cost, but unfortunately, only the sender has the option of recording.
Using a Video Share-enabled phone poses other logistical conundrums as well. By default, images appear upside down, and oddly, only the sender can rotate it or adjust its brightness. Recipients, meanwhile, can choose to view the video in landscape mode, which takes up the whole screen, or portrait mode, which shows the controls at the bottom of the screen. If and when AT&T upgrades to two-way video calling, we hope it will introduce the ability for both callers to control their images.
Video Share's applications are plentiful, thanks to its clear video quality and ease of use. But until AT&T offers two-way video, lowers its prices, and widens availability, we don't expect too many takers.
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