Video conferencing is the new thing but how do I set it up?

Question

What do I need if I want to setup a video conferencing system via the Internet between several family members?

-Jane

Answer

This question was answered on June 24, 2004. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

When it comes to video conferencing via the Net, there are two distinct groups of applications and hardware; corporate and personal.

For the purposes of this column, I will focus primarily on the personal options in hardware and software.

There are three main issues with video conferencing; the Internet connection, a webcam and the connection software.

It all begins with your Internet connection, with the bigger the pipe (faster connection) the better the experience While a dial-up Internet connection will certainly work, if everyone involved is on a high-speed connection, such as cable or DSL, the video size and fluidity (on the recipients screen) as well as the audio sync will likely be better.

If you are behind a router (or firewall) for your Internet connection, the complication level to making a connection will be higher, depending upon which software solution that you choose (more on this later).

The next component that you will need is some form of webcam or netcam They range from very inexpensive ($25) to very expensive ($250) My recommendation is to get something in the middle of the road (less than $100) that supports USB 2.0, which has a much faster transfer rate between the camera and your computer.

Video quality, light sensitivity, contrast, brightness and microphone quality generally suffer in low cost webcams.

The final piece of the puzzle is the most difficult decision, because there are so many options

If you are an avid IM (Instant Messaging) user, most all of the major companies, such as AOL, MSN and Yahoo! include an option to use a webcam via their system This means that all parties must be on the same system for compatibility purposes.

If you have a firewall installed, using an IM client for video connections generally negates the need to manually configure your firewall to allow a connection.

While an IM solution is free and easy to get started, the quality in both video and the audio synchronization is not the greatest

Both Microsoft and Apple have created specific applications for video conferencing Windows users can download the free NetMeeting 3 solution at www.microsoft.com/windows/netmeeting and Apple users can checkout iChat at www.apple.com/ichat.

Another option for those that have a high-speed Internet connection that want to use their television for video conferencing is a product called i2eye from Dlink ( www.dlink.com) This solution does not require a computer and uses a traditional handheld remote to control the unit.

There are literally hundreds of options available for video conferencing available, but remember, everyone that plans to participate must meet all of the requirements for the solution that you choose to implement.

Talking someone that is not comfortable with computers, over the phone, on how to install a webcam, configure a conferencing client or heaven forbid, punch a hole through their firewall can be the epitome of frustrations, so be careful what you wish for!

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on June 24, 2004