Want to have some fun?  Try video conferencing.

There is a wide variety of video conferencing gear on the market.  At the low-end you use your pc and the Internet.  At the high-end, say for a conference room setting, proprietary equipment from Polycom, PictureTel, or VCON can cost thousands of dollars and be used with a dedicated ISDN-PRI circuit.  But let’s say you just want to see a family member that lives in California while you are talking to them?  Here’s what you need to get started.

First off your pc needs to have a sound card, speakers, and a microphone since conferencing software permits voice conversation.  It is best to use a headset with a noise canceling microphone.

Next you need a computer camera.  There are lots of cameras on the market and cost is a function of resolution, speed (frames per second), number of colors (e.g. 24 bit), and other functions.  Here are some to investigate.  The Logitech QuickCam Pro offers 640x480 resolution and 30 fps for about $100.  Logitech has almost a dozen models available with varying features and price levels and is probably the vendor you should spend the most time investigating for hardware.  Many cameras offer cross functionality and can serve as a digital still camera.  Another popular vendor to check out is Creative Labs.

The final piece to the puzzle is the software that runs on your Windows PC to make a video call.  The most popular software for Windows 95 and 98 is NetMeeting which can be downloaded from Microsoft’s web site.  With the introduction of Windows XP, Microsoft has replaced NetMeeting with Windows Messenger.  Some others to consider are ICUII (I see you too), FocusFocus, TeamView, The Internet Com Suite from Smith Micro, and iVisit.

Although this is great in concept, you should be prepared. You will not get fantastic video or voice quality with a low cost solution.  The video and voice can be slow and choppy and is heavily dependent on what else is happening on the Internet at the time.  For best results you and your video chat partner should have a broadband connection using DSL or a cable modem.  Good Luck!          


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