BlackBerry Video Chat is here! That holy grail once denied to we BlackBerry users is finally within our grasp, at least for PlayBook users. With an update to the PlayBook OS delivered in the wee hours of the morning, those owners gained the ability to see and talk to people hundreds of miles away. All from a device that weighs less than a pound.

Connecting to another PlayBook user is meant to be easy; all you'll need is their BlackBerry ID. Once you've opened the Video Chat application, touch New Contact (located in the upper left). If you want to add a person as a contact, enter the BBID and a nickname if desired. You can also choose a picture from your PlayBook or bridged BlackBerry to serve as that person's avatar. Click done (in the upper left) to save that person as a contact.

To start a call, simply touch that person's name in your contact list. The call will start automatically. The person being called will get a notification and the option to answer, answer without video, or decline the call. If you're unavailable for a video call, set Video Chat to Do Not Disturb. Touch the white circle in the upper left to activate; it will turn red when Do Not Disturb is on.

It would be wonderful if all of this worked perfectly on day one; unfortunately, there have been some glitches.

Video Chat on the BlackBerry PlayBook

The Main Screen 

Video Chat on the BlackBerry PlayBook

BlackBerry Video Chat is not a complex program, and it should take you next to no time to grasp the basics. To add a new contact, simply tap the New Contact button (we'll cover that in the next section). Want to make a video call? Make sure you're connected to a WiFi network, and tap the contact. You can also toggle between making video calls and audio only calls; just click the button in the upper left. Once set, all of your future calls will be in that setting, i.e., audio only or video.

Want to see what you look like before making that call? Just click the camera icon in the upper right. Pro Tip: also a great way to see if you've got something in your teeth. Below that icon is a way to view your contacts in list view. In addition to the contact name and icon, you'll see their BlackBerry ID. When you have few contacts, this view has a limited functionality. When you have a few hundred, it's usefulness will be more apparent.

More contact views

There are two other ways to view your contacts. Touching Recent brings up a log of all your chats: incoming, outgoing, and unanswered. If you've made or received a call from someone not on your contact list, a green plus sign will appear to the far right of the person's BBID. Clicking this cross will allow you to quickly add the person as a contact.  Touching Frequent will open a list of your most-called contacts.

Adding a Contact

Add a contact and include a picture 

All you'll need to add a contact is the person's BlackBerry ID. Touch New Contact to begin. Just enter the person's BBID. Pro Tip: Don't want to make a person a contact? Enter the BBID and then touch the camera to start a video chat or the microphone to start an audio only chat.

Give your contact a nickname and a picture if desired. Touching Add picture will allow you to choose pictures from your PlayBook or (if available) your Bridged BlackBerry. Once you've finished making changes to your contact, tap Done in the upper left.

Editing a contact

If you'd like to make changes to a contact, swipe down from the top to open the application's menu. Tap edit and then the contact you'd like to change. When you've finished editing, tap cancel.


Incoming Calls

Making a video call to one of your contacts is as simple as tapping their name. When you call, the other person will get the option to Accept, No Video (audio only call) or Decline. The Video Chat application does not need to be open; the call notification will appear in the same space as the rest of your notifications. If you're unable to accept calls at the moment, you can set the app for Do Not Disturb Mode. At the top of every screen in the app, you'll see a white circle with a line through it. Tap this icon to turn on DND mode; it will turn red while it's active. Tap the icon again to turn off the mode.

While on a call, you'll see the other party in most of the window. Tucked into one of the corners is the picture-in-picture view of what the other person can see - usually you. Dragging the window around, you can place it in any of the four corners. Using a pinch-to-zoom gesture will let you make that window bigger or smaller (touch two opposite corners of the window, while touching widen or narrow the gap between your fingers).  This is demonstrated in the video embeded above.

Warning when video chat still active

Even when you switch to another application, the video cameras stay active. This message appears to remind you: you can't see your caller, but they can see you.

To end the call, touch the screen. At the bottom, a menu bar will appear with a red phone handset. Even though no one I know has a phone like that anymore, it's still the recognized symbol for ending a call. Touch the red icon to end.

Some Glitches

Users - including your CrackBerry team - frequently report error messages involving a firewall. Disabling the router's firewall is not recommended, but in testing did seem to improve service. Another issue is the rear-facing camera; you're supposed to be able to switch back and forth between the front- and rear-facing cameras as much as you like. However, as soon as the rear camera is "active," the other user simply sees a frozen image from the front-facing camera. At this time, we recommend not using the rear-facing camera over Video Chat.

These are but the first days. Just as the PlayBook experience has improved since launch; so too will BlackBerry Video Chat. The features are in place, they work well aside from connection problems. While that is a serious problem to overcome, have faith. An update is surely on the way