Tonight around midnight Skype will release version 2.0 beta of their popular peer-to-peer voice and instant messaging client. Version 2.0 adds client support for video, customizations such as avatars and ringtones, . The new version is currently available for the Windows platform only.
The video transmission uses the On2 Truemotion VP7 compression format which is easily throttled for bandwidth differences and was designed with video conferencing and dropped packets in mind. The video format appears to only support the Windows operating system and could constrain any plans to expand Skype with video to other platforms. On2 claims their video format is better quality over less bandwidth than the H.264 codec used by Apple’s iChat AV application or the Windows Media video streaming but that could just be marketing hype.
One big unanswered question is the use of CPU and memory resources by the new Skype application. Skype functions as a supernode, routing Skype data around the Internet while the application is open, even when you are not using its features. Skype is currently idle on my Mac while I type this post, yet is it consuming 5% of my 1.67 GHz G4 CPU across 15 threads and 40 MB worth of memory. I do not have a Windows machine to test with, but I am guessing peer-to-peer video consumes even more resources even when you are not personally active.
The new version of Skype supports contact groupings to separate your contacts or invite many people into a conversation at once. Every Skype user can also broadcast their timezone and mood to provide more information to other users before they initiate contact.
Still no signs of eBay integration, but Skype video chat could allow for live product demos or possibly personal product shopping video channels if one-to-many broadcasts are supported.
Skype has partnered with Logitech and Creative to brand webcams as “Skype certified.” The Logitech Fusion pictured above is a Skype certified 1.3 megapixel camera. Apple collects 10% of the wholesale price for products featuring its “Made for iPod” logo and perhaps Skype worked out a similar deal with hardware makers. Creative went a step further and introduced an Instant Skype Edition webcam.
Downloadable pictures and sound are provided by QPass and have been available for Skype users since version 1.4 was released in September.