By Anne B. McDonald Want to spend face time with friends, relatives, or business contacts but just can't do it in person? Look into Talkway Communications' nifty video e-mail service. You need the company's VMailTalk Express software and a Webcam to create your message, but the recipient doesn't need any sort of special software or hardware to view it.
For $40 you get a USB Webcam, VMailTalk Express, and a 12-month account for 25 video minutes per month. The company offers a variety of other paid service plans.
To send your message, you must use Outlook 2000 or later, or Outlook Express 4 or later. (Support for more e-mail clients is in the works.) VMailTalk Express adds a small audio/video recorder to the usual Outlook e-mail message form. Using the recorder is easy: Click Record, chat until done, then click Stop. You may also type a text message.
When you click Send, your compressed video file is sent to Talkway's server; your recipient gets an HTML-format e-mail that also includes any text you've entered. Recipients need only a Java-enabled e-mail client to be able to view your missive.
Most recipients of the video e-mail I sent using a final version of VMailTalk Express reported that they could open it easily and that it had good--but not great--sound and video, with occasional jerks and lags during the playback.
The company says that a 30-second video e-mail sent to three friends will use 2 minutes of account time--including 30 seconds of recording time and 30 seconds to cover its costs for the viewing time for each e-mail. (The videos reside on Talkway's servers.)
It's fun to use, but remember that this type of e-mail is no more and no less secure than any other nonencrypted e-mail, so don't divulge private personal or business information as you chatter. From the June 2002 issue of PC World magazine