Rounds is breaking group video chat out of the confines of chat software.
The company today is launching Rounds Live to bring group video chat to any website on the Internet.
Announced back in March, Rounds Live lets you create virtual video chat rooms with up to 12 people, which are overlaid on top of websites. The goal? To recreate the feeling of hanging out with your friends in real life without the artifice of a Skype or Google Hangout interface in the way.
Rounds Live is currently free in the form of a Google Chrome plugin — which makes it easier to install than Skype. You can also log into the plugin with your Facebook account, which some may find easier than signing on to Google+ to use its Hangouts video chat.
After installing the plugin, you just need to hit the small Rounds icon in your Chrome menu bar to launch a Rounds Live video experience. From there, you can invite your friends to the video chat by sharing a custom link or by sending them a private Facebook message.
While testing out Rounds Live this morning with Rounds’ chief marketing officer Natasha Shine-Zirkel, I was surprised by how simple it was to set up and get a video chat going. Rounds Lives puts you and your friends in small video bubbles, which you can move around the web page and resize as you see fit.
Video and audio quality was generally good (it’s powered by Vidyo’s streaming technology, which is also used by Google Hangouts). Rounds Live also has some slick interface flourishes, which makes it feel like you’re using desktop software and not just a browser plugin. For example, choosing to hide the video bubbles makes them transparent enough to read text on a web page, but still lets you see your friends.
Shine-Zirkel tells me she uses Rounds Live to watch TV shows with her sister, who lives on the other side of the globe. I could also see it being useful for group collaboration — especially for things like website design or shared cloud documents.
Unfortunately, Rounds Live isn’t yet smart enough to retain video conferences if you leave a web page. You’ll have to start a new chat whenever you navigate to a new page — which makes it less useful for things like group online shopping or simply navigating through news site with your friends. Shine-Zirkel says the company is working on a “tag along” feature that will allow users to move to different web pages in a group.
Israel-based Rounds is best known for its Facebook-powered social video chat (which has more than 10 million users so far). It competes directly with hyped video chat startup Airtime, founded by Napster cofounder Sean Parker. While Airtime is now trying to find a new audience withmobile video chat app OkHello, Rounds is aiming to make video chat more usable by bringing it to the wider web.
Rounds was founded in 2008 and has raised around $10.5 million from Rhodium, Verizon Ventures, DFJ’s Tim Draper, and others.