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Ventrilo: The essential comms tool for the PC gamer

In the heat of battle, there's one tool that trumps all. No, it's not your customizable mouse or the fancy keyboard with 100 different macro keys. It's communication.

Ventrilo takes the guesswork out of what your friends are doing in-game by providing a lightweight voice over IP program to stay in constant contact.

Despite being completely free to download and use, Ventrilo come with a barrier to entry: You, or someone you know, must rent a server to use. Luckily, renting a 10-20 user server will generally cost less than $50 per year. If you're tight on cash, you'll be pleased to know that Ventrilo does allow you to set up your own server for up to eight people at no charge. Without an active server, though, Ventrilo becomes pretty useless.

When you open Ventrilo for the first time, it offers an online tutorial to run you through the basics of connecting to a new server. This includes creating a new profile, complete with teaching the program to say your username phonetically. In order to add a server, you'll need some very specific information from it, such as the hostname or IP address, port number, and password (if one exists).

Once in the server, hosts and admins can create or organize rooms,  which are great for separating players in specific games and keeping each stream of chatter where it belongs. Ventrilo supports a great deal of custom configuration for the player as well, such as letting players choose when to play notification alerts, letting them set up custom key bindings, and allowing them to select user-specific volume levels.

Communication can also be done via an integrated chat interface. No matter what channel you're in, you can join the chat and communicate via text, complete with text-to-speech as a checkable option. You also have the option to leave comments on your username to display your status (away from the keyboard, waiting to play, etc) and include a URL.

Despite being so robust and useful, especially for games that don't include integrated VoIP, Ventrilo is dull and lacks a user-friendly interface. A plain white window with endless branching menus and buttons can overwhelm the less tech-savvy, who will undoubtedly miss out on the many features Ventrilo hides away in embedded menus. Fortunately, you don't need all those options to use Ventrilo effectively.

The program is light on system resources, but it can be a connection hog at times. Latency can spike causing delayed voices or missed transmissions all together. It is recommended you use a stable, strong connection before investing your multiplayer communications into Ventrilo.

Ventrilo may not be the prettiest communication tool of all time, but it is one of the most robust and stable. I've been using Ventrilo for years and have yet to explore the deepest trenches of the options. Luckily, you don't have to dive deep to get the most out of it. It's just nice those endless options are included. For those who don't want the hassle, it's simple to use and effective for the gamers who want to get the job done.

Note: The Download button takes you to the vendor's site, where you can download the latest version of the software appropriate to your system.

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