HipChat beats Slack to the punch with group video calling

Up to 10 people can quickly spin up a face-to-face conversation using the chat service

It just became easier for HipChat customers to get some face time with each another whenever they want it. The company has launched new group video calling and screen sharing functionality that lets up to 10 other people share a virtual face-to-face meeting. 

Users can spin up a call in a HipChat channel, or bring additional people into a one-on-one video call. That way, people who work in far-flung teams can get onto the same page face-to-face, using the same software that they count on for text chat during the day. 

HipChat's announcement Thursday is a move to compete with both consumer services like Skype and Google Hangouts, as well as workplace videoconferencing systems like Lifesize and Skype for Business. The launch is particularly important for HipChat's competition with Slack, which recently added group voice calls and has video calling on its roadmap. 

Group video calls are only available for teams that pay for HipChat Plus, which costs US$2 per user per month. 

The new video calling features are based on technology HipChat vendor Atlassian acquired with the JitSi open source video-conferencing product. The company still makes the open source version available, but this integration brings video calling into HipChat natively. 

Right now, group video calling is only available on HipChat's desktop apps, but it will make its way to mobile in some form in the future.

It will be interesting to see how quickly Slack can answer with video calling features of its own, after the high-flying productivity startup acquired screen sharing company Screenhero in January 2015.

Some teams may still find themselves in need of dedicated video-conferencing services, if they use specialized hardware for video meetings or if their needs exceed what HipChat can offer. For example, meetings in HipChat can't have moderators with special privileges, and are limited to 10 participants at launch.

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