Back to School: Video Chat Makes the Grade from PCs to Smartphones

by Reads (21,932)

Question #2  What’s your patience level with technical glitches?

Although basic software installation and set-up often go smooth as glass, video chat is  not necessarily for the technologically faint of heart.

While Skype does provide live chat support to Premium Service customers, most of the help  available for video chat consists of static help files.

As the providers themselves acknowledge on their sites, a variety of snares can  snarl things up. Users complain that they can’t see or hear their friends, their friends can’t see  or hear them, the app isn’t using the right camera or mike, the video quality is poor, or that they’re hearing echos, for instance.

In a little hands-on experiment, I set up a two-way video chat link between my notebook and  my netbook, each running Windows XP, under two different methods — Skype and Tinychat — for comparison’s sake. On the netbook, I used a pre-installed Webcam, and on the notebook, a dedicated Webcam from Logitech. Both PCs worked handily with both services (although nothing seems to beat Tinychat in terms of a multifaceted  “user experience”).

Glitches did glare, however, when I tried to install a 3D/2D Webcam from Minoru on the  netbook. The set-up program stalled on the first of six pages every time. I could never get past it, even after ten attempts. (To be fair, this might have been the fault of the netbook’s lower  headroom, as opposed to the Minoru software itself. Still, though, a couple of days later,  the Minoru software suddenly alerted me that the camera had turned on by itself. That is  kind of hard to fathom, since the Webcam still hadn’t ever been set up. I proceeded to  uninstall the software).

Quite evidently, the waters can also get murky when you try to do a video chat across  devices running on multiple OS.

Question #3:  Which OS are the PCs (and/or smartphones) running?

Skype’s video chat service supports a very broad range of desktop and mobile OS, including  Windows 4.2 and higher, Mac OS 2.8 and up, Linux, Apple’s iOS, and, since June of this year,  Android OS.

Keep in mind, though, that iOS support is only fully available for Apple gadgets with the necessary cameras, such as the iPhone 3G, iPhone 4, iPad 2, and iPod touch. With other Apple gadgets,  you’ll be able to hear the audio component of a chat, while the video will be out of reach.

With official support for Windows, Mac OS, iOS, and now Android, GoogleTalk presents some  additional alternatives for video chats between various sorts of devices. However, in Gmail  Help, Google has acknowedged compatibility issues between GoogleTalk and the recently  released Mac OS X 10.6 (“Snow Leopard”).

“For many users, the display of video is broken, showing only your GMail avatar image. Voice  and video will also delay the sleep process on your Mac by about 30 seconds,” according to  Google.

Meanwhile, GoogeTalk’s first Android app, released in April, still supports only devices  running Android 2.3.4 — and at this point, that amounts to a single device, Google’s own  Nexus S phone.

Yet the very next month, a third-party developer named Skymobius issued a new edition of  Vtok, another app that supports GoogleTalk. Vtok’s new app is designed to work with Android  2.1 or higher.

Judging from user reviews, other smaller players also seem to be doing better than big guys  like Google and Facebook at supporting video chat across both PCs and mobile gadgets. However,  keeping track of which platforms they support is a big job in itself.

The highly entertaining Tinychat site announced initial mobile device support just this  month, with a new app enabling chats among up to 12 PCs, Macs, and iOS gadgets.

Conversely, Tango is working toward multiplatform group chat from the opposite direction, On  its Web site, fring has promised to add Windows PC support to its currently supported iOS and Android platforms in the near future.

Wrote a user named Kaylan on the Android market site: “Awesome! Hubby has [Tango] on his  iPod touch and I on my [Android-based] HTC Evo and we both love it! 5 Stars!”

Over at fring, the iPad 2 tablet recently joined a list of supported platforms which already  included Windows PCs (but not Macs), iPhones, and Android phones.

Rather ironically, mobile device support seems unlikely to be present — initially, at least  — in the new app that Skype is now building with Facebook, nor in Google Plus’ Hangout, for  that matter. 

For pricing ranging from free to negligible, video chat services and apps carry the promise  of making the world a lot smaller for just about all of us. Hopefully, after answering these  questions for yourself, you now have a better idea about which choices might be best for  you.


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