Free Video Streaming

good
key review info
application features
  • Video chat 1-on-1 and join video chat rooms.
  • (3 more, see all...)

I think we will agree when I say that everything in this world revolves around communication, irrespective of the form it takes. The fantastic spring of telephony, the jump of Internet messengers, and basically any technology that enables easier and cheaper long-distance communication are all arguments that cannot be denied.
The pencil and paper have become obsolete long ago, and video in general, with video chatting in particular, is on the way of becoming the most used forms of communication. Camfrog Video Chat is an old dog in this business, offering you the possibility of talking "face-to-face" to perfect strangers at any time of the day, month or year.

If you are willing to give up certain features, the application is a freebie that offers various video chat rooms filled with strangers, as well as the possibility of using it for private video conferences with your friends. Should you want the full-featured version of the application, there is a $49.95 fee you have to pay in order to unlock its full powers.

Just to provide you with an incentive, here are some of the features for the registered version of the application: you benefit from up to 100 windows in video chat rooms (RAM has an important part), huge live video windows, you can locate the room a specific user is in, add text effects to your video windows, share files with other Pro users, add transparency to your IM window, or remotely access your webcam.

However, if you are not interested at all in the aforementioned, you've got yourself a free video chat program and an instant messenger you can use to talk to your friends, or lurk on perfect strangers. The best part is that you do not need to go through complicated form filling in order to get a username. All you need for the creation of a profile is a nickname, a password and an email address to receive a new password in case you lose it. Oh, you also need to fill in a birth date, as there are some chat rooms that accept only 18+ users.

Login Screen

When it comes to user login, Camfrog proves to be quite flexible, as it will remember multiple profiles and their passwords, allowing you to sign in under whatever nickname you want automatically. Sure, for this you have to check the "Save my password" checkbox in the main screen.

Working with the application is a piece of cake because every option is at hand or just a click away. After logging in, the main application window presents you with a set of options for joining chat rooms, adding new contacts to your list or searching for specific Camfrog users. The latter function is web-based and the page opening in your web browser will show you all users currently online, as well as provide advanced search, which lets you enter more details for a more specific search and accurate results.

Adding a contact requires simply typing in the contact nickname and you are done, no acceptance from the other end is needed. Sure, if you are bothering them, they can always block your conversations. If you don't know the nickname you want to add, you can always use the online "User Directory List" to find the right person.

Chat Room List

On to the fun stuff: the Chat Rooms. You can find hundreds of people in there, ready to talk to you and some of the rooms have even trivia in the main chat. Most of the rooms have a general topic users can discuss on and share their opinion on various subjects of general interest.

Video Chat Room List window shows you the number of rooms available for the geographic region you have chosen (upper part of the screen). There are four major categories (Camfrog, Deaf, General and 18+) Camfrog offers to its users, but these are just pretexts, as from my experience each room in the aforementioned categories is independent and comes with its own rules you have to agree to.

For all rooms available, you get the number of users online and joining is just a matter of a click. Also, the application gives recommendations with regard to the quality of the streamed video. My experience with the chat rooms showed excellent video streaming, but Internet speed and quality have a say or two in it as well.

The Chat Room

Chat rooms are basically what everybody might expect them to be: a place where everybody can post just about anything to the other users (respecting the rules of the room) and choose the nicknames to send instant messages to, but with a pinch of audio and video (you will hear snippets of room conversations). There are two video screens available, one for you and one to view a selected user in the room.

The list in the right hand part of the screen is divided into three separate sections: Online users, Hidden and Lurkers. Users that fall in the third category are those that either have no webcam available or have it on pause (yes, Camfrog allows you to pause the transmission whenever you don't want to be seen). So you can simply sit in a room and watch what others are doing, talk to them, IM them, etc.

Contrary to my expectations, Hidden list is actually the place where all users with webcam are to be found. A single click on them will immediately connect you to their video stream. The next moment, the user whose webcam you are connected to will move from Hidden users list to Visible users. Hovering your mouse over a nickname will provide you details such as sex, age, if s/he has a webcam, or if s/he is watching. However, there is a detail missing, and that is the current IM status of the respective user. You will learn that only when opening the IM window.

Users are color-coded to show their rank in the room: some of them are owners, others operators, others are friends of the room, while the vast majority are simple users with nothing special but the webcam. Thus, you might consider thinking twice before crossing anyone, as an operator or owner can kick you out of the room in an instant.

The lower part of the chat room window allows customization of the font and gives access to a list of emoticons, which is quite short in my opinion but will make do. Also, you have the volume control in the right part and the nickname of the one currently talking in the room. If you want to grab the mike, you need outstanding reflexes in order to press the green Talk button as there are plenty of amateurs in the race.

Menu bar provides little options, but there are some of them that could come pretty handy, like inviting a friend to the room, removing users from your contact list, enabling the display of timestamp in the main chat, or showing the total number of users in the room (at the bottom of the screen).


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IM-ing

The window for chatting with a user in private is not much different from the main chat room if you are using the unregistered version of Camfrog. However, if you decide to pay the $45.95 one time fee, things improve significantly.

With the freebie, all you can do is type messages with a customized font, send emoticons (the same as the ones available for the chat room), blacklist the user or view his/her profile. Major options such as one-on-one audio or video, sharing files or snapshots of you are restricted to the Pro version of Camfrog. But, if you want to see the person you are IM-ing, I am sure you will think of launching his/her video stream in the video chat room and type the messages in the IM window.

I was a bit disappointed by the fact that there is no message logging by default and you actually have to save the message to an RTF file (look under File menu for "Save" and "Save As" options). Message logging is a standard in all major chat programs, but Camfrog still lags behind on this one by adopting this somewhat more uncomfortable solution for the user.


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Settings

Configuring Camfrog Video Chat is not rocket science, and everything is actually easy to understand. It is just a matter of disabling the functions you don't need and of checking the boxes that enable those you make use of.

Users can make general configuration settings, like setting the program to start with Windows, alert when users go offline or online, as well as when a message is received, adjust the automatic "away" time.

Sound settings deal only with receiving audio alerts whenever a certain something happens: incoming message, buddy logon, when you've just been kicked out of a room, receiving bad feedback (only Pro users can do this), video start chat, etc. Although this may be sufficient for most of the users, others may feel the need of customizing the sounds with audio of their own. Bad news: you can't do that and you'll have to settle with the preset alerts.

Being a software that connects strangers, and having rooms that allow looser behavior from the users, the inclusion of parental controls could only have been natural. Thus, an administrator of the computer can enable a set of restrictions per user. The functions that can be disabled include video viewing and broadcasting, audio listening and broadcasting, denying text chat and IM, as well as joining rooms not hosted by Camfrog. A very interesting feature is that you can enable automatic logging of messages and saving them to a specific folder on your computer.

Parental restrictions can be applied to each Camfrog user the application stores and are enabled by the computer users. Needless to say, everything is protected by a user-defined password.

Privacy and Safety options are mainly designed for users of the registered version of the application, as there are plenty of disabled functions in the free edition. For instance, you cannot turn IM catcher on, a function that allows you to see the messages from blocked users and answer them if you want. What you can do is hide the room you're in from other users, or enable the display of information bar.

Settings window is the place you can make modifications to your profile which will be immediately updated on the web. Besides the regular information (name, marital status, location, email, occupation and homepage), it also includes a picture and adding comments.

Camfrog makes available a set of settings for video and audio, but the amount of options is skimpy (especially for video), partly because you need to register for the software.


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Working with Camfrog is definitely not a pain in the neck - everything is very easy to set up and configure. All you need to do is to plug in your webcam and the app will automatically detect it and start wading through the chat rooms. Registered users benefit from a great variety of options, although there is plenty of room for improvement. Meanwhile, unregistered ones will have to make do with the imposed restrictions.

The flexibility of the software does not reach high levels and an avid IM chatter will definitely feel constrained by the miss-outs. Yet, is provides free video chatting with perfect strangers and the opportunity of starting your own chat room (you will need enough bandwidth or you might want to rent a good server).

The Good

Users benefit from great video streaming in most of the cases, and the handling is extremely easy. It makes available rooms which come with their own specific and, if your bandwidth permits it, you can start your own room.

You can create a contacts list and a list with blocked users. All users can communicate to each other privately via instant messages.

The Bad

There are plenty of limitations for the free version. Video chatting one-on-one with another user, sharing files, using audio – these are all features for registered users.

It seems that the lack of more features that would make the application much more flexible is the greatest drawback. Even the price looks friendly when you think it’s a one-time fee compared to the lack of otherwise pretty standard options in other chat clients.

The Truth

Camfrog is great if you need someone, anyone to talk to. Also, if in need of friends, chat rooms are filled with people ready to "assist" you in the matter and have conversations with you. Chat rooms offer a great variety of subjects to be discussed and you can cut in a public conversation at any time in order to express your point of view (being civil will help you not be kicked out).

Video broadcasting is the main purpose of the application and it shows, as it has great quality, but many options that should be present are either ignored or missing altogether.

The free version is the most scourged and limited, since it cannot even rise to the minimum standards of a regular chat client and provide at least the automatic conversation logs, not to mention the file sharing function.

Free edition is what we tested and that is what we're going to rate. For the registered version, the rating goes up by one star reaching a total of four.
user interface 4
features 3
ease of use 3
pricing / value 3


final rating 3
Editor's review
good
 

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