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Review: Voice In Second Life Gets Two Thumbs Up

Voice in Second Life, due to go live May 23, will fundamentally transform the virtual world. We tried out the beta version, and were extremely impressed.

I just got out of testing out the new voice feature in Second Life, and I'm extremely impressed. It's now only available in the beta area of Second Life, and I can't wait for Linden Lab to deploy it throughout the entire service, which is due to happen one week from today.

The signal is clean, clear, and high-fidelity, much more so than a standard phone call. It's like having the person standing next to you. If you've used Skype, you expect that quality of service (when it's working -- the problem with Skype and other VoIP services is they tend to be more unreliable than plain old copper-wire phone service).

But voice in Second Life is better than Skype: The sound is three-dimensional. You hear the sound directionally. The avatar's voice seems to be coming from the direction the avatar is in relation to your avatar. If the speaker's avatar is coming from your left, you hear the voice from your left. If the speaker's avatar is coming from the right, you hear the voice from the right. If the avatar is far away, their voice is softer, if it's closer, it's louder. As you walk or otherwise move around, the sound seems to change direction appropriately.

Did I mention that the whole effect is excellent? I just love it.

Linden Lab expects voice in Second Life to be buggy at launch, currently scheduled for May 23, said Cory Ondrejka, CTO of Linden lab, in a telephone interview last week. "With anything that's cutting edge and anything that involves a mix of operating system issues, drivers, different microphones, and different headsets, and especially people who haven't used those things before, I think it's safe to say that there may be quirks," he said.

Linden Lab took Second Life down for regularly scheduled maintenance this morning, and announced that it would instead have a party on the voice beta grid, and was asking anybody and everybody to log in during to stress-test the application.

I tested out the voice beta in conjunction with Kim Smith, a Seattle-based Second Life marketing consultant who goes by the name "Rissa Maidstone." We weren't able to get it to work then. Performance was extraordinarily slow, probably because the test grid was so crowded. We finally logged off and then tried again later in the afternoon, when everything worked great -- eventually.

I had some difficulty getting started at first. I couldn't get my headset and microphone to work. Eventually, I discovered the problem: I was running Gizmo, an Internet telephony client, and the headset and microphone worked after I shut down Gizmo. Probably Gizmo had grabbed control of the headset and mike and wouldn't let Second Life use it. That kind of behavior is standard for a PC but I use a Mac, and I expect better behavior from the Mac. Harrumph.

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