Adding video to your
VoIP calling is not only simple and easy, but - apart from a
$30 webcam - it is also free.
Here we discuss the
most common software programs.
7 of a
8 part series - click for Parts
Now we're in the 21st century,
it is finally time for video as well as voice calling to be a
practical amenity for us all.
If you have broadband internet,
you can use it both for voice calling and also for video calling
too, using any one of these various free
programs listed below (or many other programs that are sold for
only small amounts of money).
Here's how to choose the best
program for you.
the Dream of the Picture Phone
phones, offering combined voice and video transmission - have
been talked about, and occasionally offered, for decades, with
the first appearance probably dating back to the New York
World's Fair in 1964. But the technology has been too
expensive, systems usually incompatible with each other, and the
quality too poor to encourage broad acceptance. Without a
ruling standard and a growth towards general use, none of the
various products have ever achieved any significant sales or
Free Video Software
Now for the good news.
The software you'll want to use is available, for free, and may
even be on your computer already.
There are two reasons why
free software is important. The obvious reason : It
saves you money. The other reason : Whoever
you're sharing video with will need a copy of the software, too.
Free software encourages your friends to become video friendly.
More good news :
Instant messaging, VoIP, and video over Internet have all become an area of intense competition between some of the
biggest internet companies - Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo and Google,
for example. All these companies are investing heavily in
improving their products, and so you can expect the products listed below to
rapidly evolve and improve.
We'll update these reviews as
necessary to reflect the updates and upgrades.
Skype (tested version
126.96.36.199, Apr 08)
Skype's video is clearly the
best of all the video programs, and gives a consistently better
quality image than the other programs, narrowly edging out
A new innovation, released
in 2008, is support for high quality video - 640x480 resolution
and 30 frames per second. This requires your PC to have a
dual core processor, and only works with a small range of
webcams at this stage, but if you and the person you're linked
to can support this higher quality video, you'll be amazed at
Skype's regular quality
video is as good as any of the other programs, and its high
quality video is clearly the best of all the products.
Skype does not support video
conferencing, just one on one video.
Skype is our
recommended product for one-to-one video. You can also
see our Skype audio review for
more information about this largely free service.
You can download a free copy
Microsoft Messenger (tested
version 7.5, Sep 05)
program is a fully featured Instant Messaging program and is
widely used, particularly among business rather than
recreational computer users. Most Windows based computers
have Messenger pre-loaded as part of the various programs
included in Windows.
Microsoft has enhancing
their product substantially over the last few years, and what
had formerly been no more than a simple chat program now allows for voice
and video sharing, plus other nice things such as direct file
transfers and whiteboarding.
A very nice feature is the
'remote assistance' feature that allows another user to see your
computer's desktop, and even potentially to control it remotely.
The latest version of MS
Messenger is 7.5, and this was released
in September 05. It offers tangibly better video than the
The basic text based chat
program allows for multiple users in a conference, but the audio
and video is limited to one-to-one conversations only.
Audio quality is excellent, and the video
quality is the best of the four programs tested.
The software allows for
three different image sizes to be viewed, but it does not seem
to affect the resolution of the image being sent or received,
merely the size on the screen.
If you don't have a copy of
Messenger on your computer, or if your copy is not up to date,
download the latest version here.
Microsoft NetMeeting (tested
version 3.01, Sep 05)
NetMeeting is an obsolete
and now almost extinct product (it can be found
here if you wish to get a copy or to update an old copy).
NetMeeting was formerly the main
Microsoft audio/video conferencing product, but it had an
obsolete and somewhat problematic architecture that didn't scale
well, and the NetMeeting servers became infested with X-rated
content and users, making it inappropriate for normal business
and family use - women in particular could never be sure when a
stranger wouldn't suddenly appear on their screen in a rather
inappropriate form of (un)dress and displaying a rather
inappropriate form of behavior!
There is no longer any
reason to use NetMeeting. Messenger now has all the
features that NetMeeting has, and so has replaced it for
Live Meeting product takes the high end part of the
market (Live Meeting is not free).
Yahoo Messenger with Voice
(tested version 8.1, Apr 08)
Yahoo Messenger is not as
fully featured as Messenger, but it does allow for multiple
participant voice and video conferencing of sorts.
As a one-to-one voice and
video program, it gave good audio and acceptably good video.
It offers two video modes, a regular mode (small resolution and
low frame rate) and a super mode that offers larger resolution
and faster frame rates, giving a very good video picture.
Super mode appears to
require a user to have a moderately high speed data line.
If you're on dialup or a congested line, super mode will not be
offered as an option.
Yahoo Messenger allows for two different
sizes of image to be sent.
Super mode gave the
third best video quality of the products tested, with MS
Messenger being a little better than Yahoo Messenger and Skype
being the best. Regular mode
however can be inferior to all the other products.
Regular mode would also
sometimes freeze or close down entirely for no apparent reason.
It is unreliable and not completely satisfactory.
When creating a conference
with more than one other person, the program disappointed
When conferencing, an
version we tested suffered from bizarre logic bugs and
shortcomings, and was unreliable and unstable. Sounds you'd expect to come out of the computer's speakers (like ring
tones) came out of the headphones (so you wouldn't hear them
unless you had your headphones on) but some other sounds (like
voices in a conference) came out of the computer speakers rather
than the headphones. We could not find a configuration
option to change these assignments.
Sometimes we'd lose sound
entirely. And the sound quality, in a conference, was very
much poorer than when one-to-one.
The video also seemed to
suffer, and their super mode is only available if all users are
able to receive super mode.
The multi-user video was
inelegantly handled. It was possible, but not convenient,
to have multiple video windows open simultaneously.
The program can be
AOL Instant Messenger (tested
version 5.9, Sep 05)
AIM - AOL Instant Messenger
- is a very popular recreational feature of the AOL service, and
can also be used by non-AOL members (download
The program is moderately
well featured, although its recreational roots are clearly
evident - while it has plenty of emoticons, it doesn't support whiteboarding or
Voice quality is okay, but video
quality is disappointing. The image size is small and
there seems no way to increase it.
There is also a 'direct
connect' option but invoking this caused the video feed to
disappear, and the only solution seemed to be a complete
AIM does not support
multiple user video conferencing. We do not recommend AIM
unless you spend most of your time interacting with AOL users
who already have AIM on their computers.
vSkype (tested Beta version
The very popular
Skype VoIP program formerly
support video, although it now (2007) does.
However, there is an add-on
program that integrates itself into the main Skype program and
provides video capabilities. This program is
(similar name but unrelated company to Skype), and at least at
present, their video program is free.
It is hard to see what the
revenue opportunities are for a free video service, and we
expect that as the product develops, it will either transition
to a regular for sale product and/or will be festooned with
vSkype adds both single user
and multi-user video capabilities, and also allows for other
people to view programs running on your computer. This
program promises much, but delivers little.
The video quality is poor,
and not nearly as good as Yahoo's super mode or MS Messenger.
There seemed to be no way to adjust video size or other
The audio quality, when
conferencing through vSkype, dropped drastically and was not
nearly as good as one-to-one or the normal voice-only
conferencing through regular Skype. It seemed to only
allow one direction talking (like a walkie-talkie radio) rather
than dual direction talking (like a telephone); ie, was simplex
rather than duplex.
vSkype has a very elegant
way of managing multiple video streams on your desktop and in
theory could be by far the best suited for video conferencing
(as opposed to one-to-one video calls). But the terrible
quality of both sound and video makes this program not yet ready
for prime time.
Starting a video call
through vSkype is a cumbersome process. We suspect that
calls are routed through a central server, which might explain
the delays and the overall quality constraints.
This software is still going
through its pre-release development, and we understand that the
next Beta release, due out very shortly, will have further
improvements to the quality of the video.
vSkype is our recommended
product for multi-user video conferencing, but in such a
case, you'd want to use a different audio service.
iVisit (tested version 3.4.3,
This program is available in
both freeware and commercial versions. The free version
allows for up to eight people to join in a video conference via
a chat room; and has limits the amount of time you can be
connected to 60 minutes at a time, then you have to log out for
30 minutes before returning again.
These constraints are
unlikely to impact on many people, but business users may
possibly prefer the commercial version which costs a mere $39.95
and gives higher resolution (320x240 instead of 160x120),
removes the time restrictions, and multi-user conferencing as
well as chat.
The free version is fully
featured and easy to use, and both audio and video are of good
quality. There are also excellent additional features,
including desktop sharing and even Powerpoint presentation
sharing. It is also possible to record either the audio
alone or both the audio and the video, and variously either save
the recordings or send them to other users. It is not
possible to secretly record calls, though - the person being
recorded is advised that the recording is about to commence and
has the option to approve or deny the recording request.
The paid version allows
better quality video. If a paid user and a free user have
a conversation together, the lower quality free video is used
for both people.
The iVisit user interface is
very rich with a lot of options and features, but it is also a
bit more complicated to learn than that on the other programs.
iVisit also suffers from the
same annoying problem that Yahoo Messenger does - when a new
call rings in to your computer the ringing sound goes through
your headset rather than the computer speakers. This means
if you don't have your headset on, you probably won't hear the
For conference calling
involving more than one other person, iVisit is the best current
option. It can be downloaded
Google Talk is a new Instant
Messaging program, released in August 2005.
At present it has a very
spartan interface, limited functionality, and while it supports
both IM and voice, it has no video capability.
We include this program
because we anticipate it will quickly develop and probably add
video capabilities. As soon as this happens, it is likely
to become a
serious contender, and we will update this section as/when the
software is enhanced.
It can be downloaded
Mixing and Matching your Audio
and Video Programs
Here's an invaluable tip.
You don't need to use the
same program for audio as you use for video. For example,
by far the best audio program is Skype, but the best
(one-to-one) video program is MS Messenger.
So do your audio calling in
Skype, and if you want to add video to the conversation, you and
the other person should start a video program separately.
Note that sometimes there
are problems with this theory - if an IM program seems to use
both video and audio simultaneously, then it won't allow you to
mix and match programs. But a program such as Yahoo
Messenger (with video almost the equal of MS Messenger ) does
allow for a video only link without tying up the voice service
at the same time.
So, in any way possible, mix and
match your personal voice and video favorites.
Too many programs makes too
Resist the temptation to
load every different piece of free software that comes along
onto your computer.
Unless you use a camera
sharing program (see below) you're likely to be causing no end
of headaches because the different programs will each be
fighting with each other for control of your webcam, and
over-writing each other's settings.
It is much better to use
only one video chat program and keep your computer configuration
clean and simple.
Using a Camera with Multiple
All the video programs seek
to gain exclusive control of your webcam. So if you're
using one program's video service, you can't simultaneously
start up a different video program and send video on that, too
(never mind why you might want to do this - perhaps as a clumsy
way of conferencing).
However, there is a program
allows you to do exactly this - enabling multiple programs to
share the one webcam at the same time. This is sold for
$20. Another program,
does the same thing and is free.
I've tried the $20 program
and had reliability problems with it, so suggest you first try the
Internet based video calling
is now a convenient reality. Some of the programs offer
poor quality video, but the better programs, such as MS
Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and iVisit, give amazingly good video quality.
Video can now offer a
definite and tangible improvement on your ability to keep in
touch and communicate with friends, family, and even business
The software is usually free
and easy to use.
Read more about video over your
The previous part of this
series tells you all you need to know about
buying and setting up a webcam, and
tuning it for best quality and performance.
Related Articles, etc
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9 Sep 2005, last update
26 Aug 2018
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.