Skype is expanding the capabilities of its video communications technology by enabling users to hold a conference with up to five people.
The Skype 5.0 beta for Windows, which offers the group video calling capability, became available May 13. It is being offered as a free download.
Currently, Skype lets users initiate calls to only one other person. However, the ability to confer with multiple people is growing in importance as video collaboration continues to gain in popularity, and as larger companies, such as Cisco Systems and Polycom, continue to pour R&D dollars into their technology.
Peter Parkes, Skype's top blogger, said in a post May 13 that the group video capability is one of several improvements the company plans to make this year. An official version of Skype 5.0 for Windows will be released later in 2010.
Also coming later this year will be group calling for Macs, he said.
"Group video calling is just one in a set of new premium features you'll see us roll out during 2010," Parkes wrote. "We haven't set prices for these premium features yet, but rest assured that we're still absolutely committed to bringing you free voice and two-way video calling."
Parkes also warned of limitations in the beta version, and "a few rough edges."
Everyone on the group video call will need to running the new version of Skype. Once the new version is downloaded, bringing in additional people is as easy as clicking the "Add" button to send out an invitation to people to join the call, and then clicking the "Video Call" button.
The video collaboration space is getting more attention from both consumers and businesses, as a way of saving money on travel costs. The result is an increasingly competitive landscape, made even more so by Cisco's recent $3.4 billion purchase of video communications vendor Tandberg.
Cisco officials have been vocal in their belief that video will be a key technology in communications over the next few years, and are looking to extend those capabilities beyond their core enterprise customers.
Tandberg will give Cisco a greater presence in the small and midsize business space, and officials also are looking to drive the company's TelePresence immersive video collaboration technology into the consumer market.