When you really want to stay in touch over a long distance, a simple phone call or voice chat pales in comparison to a face-to-face video chat. You can look your long-distance significant other in the eyes while you talk; your parents can watch their grandkid grow up; and under the right circumstances, video chat can also be an excellent tool for work-related calls and collaboration. The question is, what tools should you be using to get the most out of your calls?
Google Chat (Web-based, All platforms)
Google launched video chat inside Gmail earlier this week, and already it's become a popular option for video chat (that's the power of the GOOG!). Its quick popularity is in no small part thanks to its seamless integration with Gmail—if you've already got a Gmail account, using it is kind of a no-brainer. You will need to install a free plug-in to get started with Google's video chat, but this one works no matter what operating system you're using. Video chat integration isn't yet available on all accounts, but if it hasn't already, it should be coming to a Gmail account near you very soon.
TokBox (Web-based, Supports all platforms)
TokBox is a web-based video chat application. Apart from its standard homepage, where you can login and initiate video chats with anyone through your web browser, TokBox has made its name by integrating with other services. For example, you can install the TokBox for Facebook Firefox extension to start quick video calls with any of your Facebook friends. Likewise, if you're a fan of online instant messaging application Meebo, you can start a video chat from a Meebo IM session using TokBox. If you'd prefer a desktop component, TokBox also has an Adobe AIR desktop app available on their homepage.
Skype is a popular VoIP application capable of making PC-to-PC and PC-to-phone calls; as long as you've got a webcam, any PC-to-PC call can instantly become a video chat. With the release of Skype 4.0 Beta on Windows, video chat on Skype has been bigger and better than ever. Skype's cross-platform compatibility and generally smooth video are the key elements that keep users coming back to Skype for their video chat needs.
iChat (Mac OS X)
iChat is the default instant messaging application bundled with Mac OS X. iChat boasts multi-user video chat (up to 4 people at once), iChat Theatre for sharing and viewing files during a video chat, and a Backdrops feature that allows users to customise what's behind them (e.g., you're in Paris). The downer: iChat is only available on OS X.
Vsee (Windows only)
Vsee is a free Windows videoconferencing application. In addition to VSee's straight up video chat options, it's also designed as a collaboration tool. So, as their demo video explains, you could collaborate with a colleague on a Photoshop document (even if that person doesn't have Photoshop installed) through screen sharing, and you can share that file (or any document, for that matter) by dragging the file onto your chat video. VSee Free supports video chats with up to four people simultaneously, while the paid version supports up to eight at a time.
This week's honorable mentions go out to Meebo and Digsby, both of which support video chat through the above-mentioned TokBox.
Whether or not your fave made the short list, tell us more about the video chat app you love in the comments.