Sunday, February 1, 2009

Is the videophone here at last?

Is the videophone here at last?




Many years ago it was predicted that by the end of the century we would all have video telephones. Well, many attempts have been made at this, but until recently it was not a practical means of communications. High costs, bulky equipment and large bandwidth requirements slowed down the progress. Enter the Internet and a company called SKYPE. SKYPE, now owned by EBAY, is one of many VOIP (voice over internet protocol) providers. What makes them different is that they offer a live video service in addition to standard voice communications. Like other providers, a small fee is charged for voice communications unless you are calling another SKYPE subscriber, and then it’s free. Since video-to-video calling requires a service such as SKYPE chances are it will be free to you.

How does it work? First, you need a PC or Macintosh computer hooked up to a cable or DSL broadband service. Your computer should be a model manufactured within the past three or four years. In the case of a MAC it needs to have OSX as its operating system. You need a webcam and a microphone. Many computers now feature built-in webcams and microphones, but if yours doesn’t have one, low cost models are available for under $50. Such external components generally require USB2 or Firewire inputs to make them work. If you have a MAC you may have to download a free driver since many webcams come with PC software only.

One such site for Logitec cameras is: You may also be able to use your home digital camcorder that has a Firewire output. When you have all the necessary components at hand you’ll need to download the free SKYPE software at: Once installed, webcam and microphone plugged in, just follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation and camera/microphone preference settings. Now you’re ready to add SKYPE addresses that your family or friends may have given you, or simply look them up in the worldwide SKYPE directory. SKYPE protects you from receiving unwanted calls by asking the called party if they wish to add you as a contact. SKYPE also works with audio/video on one end and voice on the other in the event you call someone who doesn’t have a webcam. They’ll see and hear you, but you’ll only hear them. You’ll be amazed at the video quality. The only thing better is something Apple calls iChat. This software is a standard feature on all Macintosh computers. While iChat is superior and also free, it only works Mac-to-Mac, whereas SKYPE is a multi-platform service. No matter which one you choose, imagine the thrill of seeing your grandchild for the first time, or that long lost friend. This is also a great tool for business where the conference feature could be valuable.

The photo above is an actual screen shot of a call between a grandmother in Boca Raton, Florida and a son and grandson in Seattle, WA. Large picture represents the party you called and the small insert, bottom left, is you, the caller.

You may wonder how SKYPE makes any money. Most SKYPE subscribers call people that are not SKYPERS. In other words they use the SKYPE network to make regular landline calls worldwide. Naturally there is a charge for this. Using SKYPE video-to-video or calling fellow SKYPE subscribers is always free. Have you been SKYPED?

Bob Skidmore is a freelance writer.


1 comment:

  1. Computers are now actualy starting to build Skype into their systems. It's amazing what people are doing with Technology today!