For those of you who don't know, the video game VOIP market is a pretty crowded place. Anyone who knows much about gaming can easily see why: online games have really taken off over the past decade or so, and most titles which are played online feature teamwork in some capacity. Co-ordination and co-operation are the key to success, and the only way to secure either of those is through communication. Unfortunately, most developers don't seem particularly keen on including any sort of voice chat option in any of their titles, and typing out a detailed list of orders in the heat of combat, well...that's not particularly viable.
As such, many gamers turn to third-party alternatives. Mumble, Ventrilo and Teamspeak are some of the better known ones. Others use XFire, and still more trudge their way over to Skype. Those are just the ones that come to mind - I'm sure others exist in great abundance. Given how many VOIP applications already exist on the market, you can imagine my surprise when I found out that Razer - one of the best-known developers of video game peripherals - has just developed their own, and tossed it out into open beta.
Now, I'm no Razer fanboy (yes I am), but I figured I might as well give the application a try, in spite of my inborn skepticism. After all, why would Razer release a product if it wasn't good? They've an image to maintain, and tossing out a shoddy, poorly-realized application would more or less ruin said image. So far, I'm quite impressed.
For the uninitiated, Mumble, Teamspeak, and Ventrilo - which I've already identified as the most popular, best-known VOIP gaming clients - all share one thing in common: they're simply platforms through which a user connects to a chat server. If you don't have a server to connect to, you can't actually use them. This isn't a problem for, say, a Minecraft server: generally, the admins are going to want to have their own VOIP server anyway. Where an issue arises is where individual users come into the equation. While there are certainly plenty of free, public servers to chat on, those who wish for a little more privacy are pretty much out of luck.
That's one of the issues addressed by Razer Comms - and one of the areas in which it defines itself over the competition. Through use of the client's "Groups" feature, users can actually put together their own private chat channels and pseudo-servers with ease. It's as simple as starting the client, clicking over to the tab, and hitting "Create Group." At that point, you'll be prompted to enter in a few details - Group Name, whether or not it's private and/or password protected, who can add people to the group, the name of the group's primary channel, the group's category, and what game the group was primarily created for.
Once the group's been created, you can then add and delete channels at your leisure. As far as I'm aware, there's no limit to the number of channels nor the number of concurrent users who can connect to said channels.
Voice chat in Razer Comms can be set up in one of two ways. The first is simple: invite all the friends with which you want to speak to chat, then hit the 'voice' button in the top left to start talking. The second isn't much more difficult: simply invite people to a channel in your group, then start the chat from there.
Voice quality is actually downright incredible, and represents some of the clearest, highest-quality sound I've yet heard in voice chat. Whatever applications Razer has in place to up quality, they work wonders. As a result, Comms puts every other client I've used to shame, even if only through call quality.
Another interesting feature of Razer Comms is that, much like XFire, it serves as a central hub for gaming. What this means is that you can actually launch your titles straight from the client. This isn't exactly anything new or unique, of course, but it's still a decent addition to an offering which is already extremely strong.
Now, there's still one thing worth noting. Comms is in open beta at the moment, so there are a few minor glitches with the client. The overlay's a touch buggy, and on my system, it tends to lock up from time to time, while some people without headsets will find that there's far too much sound coming through their mic.
Still, these are extremely minor issues, all of which are likely to be long resolved by the time the official release rolls around, and comms is shaping up to be one hell of a chat platform, either way. Try it for yourself here.