Microsoft is firing a shot across the bow at Google Hangouts today. Group video calls will now be free on Skype. So PC and Xbox users will have to option of gathering the family together for group calls. That sounds… interesting. Before the announcement, group video calls were behind the Skype Premium paywall. At $9.99 per month, it seems Microsoft wanted to remove the cost barrier and take Google Hangouts head on.

One spot where a de facto paywall will still exist is on the Xbox platform. You will have to have the Xbox Live Gold membership to have access to the feature. The rollout will begin on desktops and Xbox One. Mobile users will have to deal with one-to-one video. The group feature is planned, but no timetable has been set. It will be free once it is launched. This goes for Windows RT, Windows Phone and Android tablets.

Of course it wouldn’t be Microsoft without some fine print. “Group video calling can be between 3 and 10 people, depending on the device.For best quality, we recommend up to 5 people.A fair usage policy applies. Group video calling is currently available on Windows desktop, Mac and Xbox One platforms, and will be coming soon on other platforms. Skype on Xbox One requires paid Xbox Live Gold membership.”

Finally, Microsoft is pushing back with its product portfolio. Skype once reigned supreme. Now it will be going up against Google’s hard push into video chat. I’m sure Facebook is waiting in the wings to deploy something similar, or buy a company outright. This could be an area where they push Oculus hard.

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The new, free feature for Skype is available today. So if you want to jump on conference calls, Skype just made your accountant pretty happy. In the meantime, Skype is prepping a new version of Premium for consumers. The video call was the major feature. Maybe some features from Skype TX? Time will tell on that front.

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