One of the dreams I’ve always had (from reading too much science fiction, no doubt) is to be able to do point to point video phone calls with folks. I was an early fan of ICQ — which back in the olden days was one of the very first video-calling applications.
I’ve always been disappointed with the results. The early cameras were crummy, bandwidth limitations resulted in choppy pictures with huge latency and the sound-portion of the call was always a nightmare.
It had been a few years since I’d messed around with the stuff, so when my buddy Bill Coleman asked, I took the opportunity to do a geek project and see how things work these days. This is a “notes to myself” post in case I have to retrace my steps some day.
The big breakthrough was to use Skype for the audio portion of the call. It’s pretty easy to get the video portion of the call up and running with MSN Messenger (and presumably AIM and Yahoo Messenger as well). But getting the audio to work has always been way too hard for me to suggest to “normal people” because of all the firewall and routing issues. Skype neatly solves that problem and we judged our Saturday Geek project “pretty cool” and a big success.
– It’s pretty cheap. For Bill and me, who both already have broadband Internet access and computers and like that, the only out of pocket cost is the $50 we spent on our spiffy little Logitech cameras. The instant-messaging client (MSN Messenger is what we used) and Skype are both free.
– Quality is good — especially the audio. Skype has got the kinks worked out of their stuff, so the audio portion of the call was smooth as silk. And the video works pretty darn good too. A little fiddling (mostly with the video “size” setting once the video portion was up) and we got the audio and video latency (geek talk for “delay”) pretty well lined up with each other so the lips moved when the sound arrived.
– It’s pretty easy, and thus a rewarding project and a lot more fun than all this stuff used to be.
– It will work for people at work. That’s a really big deal for Bill, because he wants to use this to keep in touch with his clients, who tend to be scattered all over the landscape. See the Cookbook for the tech details, but I think this rig will work with no firewall changes (except for the firewall on your PC) and thus won’t give security-people heartburn.
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