With the recent coronavirus pandemic disrupting lives and businesses all around the world, many of us are turning to video-conferencing apps to keep in touch with friends and loved ones, or simply to continue working with our colleagues. But with so many to choose from, which is the best service to use?
We've gathered together six of the most popular available on Mac, so you can beat the lockdown blues and see a few friendly faces each day.
- Price: From free
Zoom seems to be flavour of the month at the moment, with many people relying on its solid, easy-to-use interface and the impressive range of features available on the free tier.
Once you've set up your account and downloaded the client app, the service allows users to host meetings with up to 100 participants and you can have as many sessions as you want each month. The only real limitation is that group meetings can only last for up to 40 minutes before being automatically ended by Zoom. You can immediately start another one, so it isn't that harsh a restriction.
One of the most useful features is for participants being able to share their screens with everyone else on the call, so if you want to see the new product design or monthly performance chart, Zoom makes it easy to do so. Everything is protected by AES 256-bit encryption and SSL, so the company secrets should remain safe.
If you need additional numbers of participants, longer meeting times, call analysis, the ability to record calls, and other benefits then there are paid tiers that begin at £11.99/$14.99 p/m. Here's how to use Zoom on Mac.
- Price: Free
Microsoft's video-conference app is one of the pioneers in the field. First released back in 2003, the software has grown into a trusted service and became so ubiquitous a while back it was often used as a verb, as in "I'll Skype you later." Today it's a powerful app that has all the features you'd expect from a mature product.
HD video is available and you can share your screen with other people on the call, record sessions, and there's the innovative Live Subtitles feature that can produce readable versions of conversations that allow those who are hard of hearing to still participate.
Up until recently the standard, free Skype service was accompanied by a Skype for Business tier, but that has now been replaced by Microsoft Teams, which we explore below.
- Price: From Free
Microsoft Teams is a comprehensive service designed primarily for business users. The free tier is impressive and offers enough for most purposes. You can make HD video calls, share your screen, and make use of the built-in chat features; plus there's 10GB of storage allocated to any teams for sharing content, with a further 2GB of personal storage for documents and other files.
Upgrading to the Business Basic tier (which costs £3.80/$5 per user per month), brings the ability to schedule and record meetings, plus you can host online events for up to 10,000 people. There's also a Business Standard tier that adds desktop versions of Microsoft Office for all members and only costs £9.40/$12.99 per user per month.
- Price: From £4.14 / $6 p/m (Basic)
Google has had a lot of video-calling apps over the years. Currently there's Duo, Google Hangouts and the one we're concentrating on here: Google Meet. While the former options are simple service intended for quick calls between friends and family, Meet is an enterprise app and as such requires a G Suite subscription.
This gives you access to calls that can have up to 250 people on at once, plus you can livestream presentations or keynote events to a maximum audience of 100,000 viewers. As you'd expect there are also chat features and the ability to share your screen with all other participants.
G-Suite costs £4.14/$6 p/m for the Basic tier, £8.28/£12 for Business, and £20/$25 for Enterprise. The main differences between these, at least in terms of Google Meet, is that they respectively allow a maximum of 100, 150 or 250 people to be included on the same call.
We should also mention that Google has very generously announced that it will be upgrading all G Suite members to the Enterprise tier at no extra cost until 1 July 2020. This is to help businesses cope with the increased level of people working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Price: Free
If your needs are modest, then you already have a video-conferencing app on your Mac in the shape of FaceTime.
While it's capable of hosting calls with up to 32 participants (here's how to make a group FaceTime call), it's only available to those with either a Mac, iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. So friends on Android or Windows devices will remain incommunicado. But those in the Apple universe will be able to chat away without needing to download any additional apps or spend any money.
- Price: Free
Okay, you won't be conducting many important shareholder meetings on this service, but if you're finding the current restrictions on travel and visiting friends difficult, then Houseparty will allow you and up to seven other friends in a 'room'. If that's not enough then you can use multiple rooms and wander virtually between them, although conversations remain within each individual room.
Users can connect to Houseparty on an iOS, Android, macOS or Windows device, with the latter using a Chrome extension.
The feel of Houseparty is, as the name suggests, to have fun. So there are various games that can be shared and completed co-operatively with your friends, including trivia, heads-up, and a Pictionary-style drawing game. The features are basic, and you won't be holding large online seminars with this app, but if you're looking to have a bit of a laugh with a few mates online, it's a good option to have.
It should be noted that there has been much speculation whether Houseparty was hacked or not recently, so check out Is Houseparty safe? before installing it on your system. Still happy to proceed? Here's how to use Houseparty on Mac.
Get better quality
The above services will do you proud, but factors outside the apps' control can affect the quality of your video calls: the quality of your internet connection, most obviously. There are also specific settings on each app that allow you to fine-tune performance.
For a comprehensive guide to these issues, read How to improve video call quality on Mac.