Facebook video chat and Skype 5.5 beta hands-on

Earlier today, Facebook and Skype got a little friendlier, making it easy to find your Facebook friends in Skype and -- more importantly -- video chat with your Facebook friends in Facebook, a service powered by -- you got it -- Skype. Since you're using Skype either way you slice it, we're not interested so much in the call quality as we are the ease of use. Just how easy is it to make video calls using Facebook chat, which, simply put, has never been our favorite IM service? And what's it like seeing your list of potential Skype callers expand to include all your Facebook buddies? Let's venture past the break to find out.

To get rolling with Facebook video chat, go to Facebook's videocalling portal and click that big "Get Started" button. After that, you'll click the obvious "Setup" button, at which point Facebook does its thing -- a seconds-long ordeal that effectively boots up a java applet. When it comes to making that inaugural video call, Zuckerberg & Co. stole a page from Skype's own playbook and made it as easy as clicking a camcorder icon. If the person you're trying to call is already good to go, you'll see a dialog box just making sure you realize that once you begin the call so-and-so will be able to see and hear you. (Thanks, Facebook!) And yes, you'll see that disclaimer every time you make a video call. If your friend hasn't set up video calling, they'll hear a ringing sound coming from their PC, alerting them to the fact that that someone is trying to call them and oh -- by the way -- they, too, need to go to Facebook's video calling page and breeze through the setup process.

Once the call's in progress, you can expand it to full screen, or relegate it to a window inside the browser. We preferred that option, although you can't resize the window, which is annoying since it took up a good quarter of our 13-inch laptop's display. Thankfully, you can move it, which we did plenty of times as we attempted multitasking, sending emails and searching for files in Windows Explorer. As for call quality, there's really nothing to write home about. Our chat from Google's Chrome browser was bright, well-lit, and didn't show much motion blur, but that's more a reflection on our WiFi connections and webcams than it is the service. Our friend Richard Lawler thought the picture was fuzzier than usual on his end, but we didn't notice a significant difference.

The second piece of the puzzle, of course, is the ability to look up your Facebook contacts' Skype handles from the Skype desktop client. But, you can only do this in version 5.5, a beta build available only to Windows users at the moment. In our hands-on, it was easy to distinguish between our Skype and Facebook contacts, or view the whole lot. When connecting to Facebook for the first time, you'll have to sign in and grant permission, as you would with any third-party app. After that, the only difference in calling Facebook contacts is that you'll have to find them in the Facebook tab in the left-hand pane (you can use the search bar to whittle down your results quickly). Once you're ready to call, all of the voice and video call icons are naturally the same as they would be in any other build of Skype.

Anxious to give this whole thing a go yourself? Head on down to the source links below, but only if you're kosher with in-browser / Windows usage. Folks on Mac, Linux or any mobile platform who want to find Facebook friends from Skype are simply asked to be patient (or, you know, convert).