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Yes, it can, and we will discuss that more in the next section. We have to start somewhere, and having a one-on-one or two-person video call is the place to start.
If you want to reduce the costs of this type of solution, you might consider a VoIP provider, such as Vonage, Packet8, ACN, or Time Warner Digital Phone, but having a VoIP digital phone provider means you have high-speed broadband Internet, so why not use a broadband video telephone? We recommend avoiding these devices until a broadband version is available.
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If you can get cable television— especially digital cable—then more than likely you can get a high-speed cable modem from your cable provider. Cable modem broadband is the fastest option available for the home user.
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Remember, MSN Messenger is only one of over40 video call solutions. To make a video call, you need a broadband Internet connection (high-speed Internet). The technical details of how to choose a high-speed Internet connection are discussed in Chapter 3, but it should be understood that in a video call, the speed of the Internet connection becomes very important. Dialup access will not provide you a very good solution, so do not even bother trying. Although there is one solution that relies on a regular telephone line, video needs more bandwidth than dialup can provide. Do you think video calls are too complicated? While reading this, are you thinking that you or your child, friends, or family do not know how to use a computer very well, let alone make a video call? For the less computer savvy user there are video call solutions that do not use a computer, such as dedicated video telephone devices; some devices use only your television, a device set on top of your television connected to your broadband Internet connection, and a remote to control the video call. We delve into dedicated video telephone devices in Chapter 5.
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After Festoon is installed, all you need to do is right-click the icon in the taskbar and select Start a video call and you will see the following screen that shows the Skype users and GoogleTalk users that are available for a video call. Of course, the contact you select needs to have Festoon installed to participate in a video call, but Festoon provides you a Share Festoon with a friend option so you can invite your IM contacts to use Festoon.
Chat-Room-Based Video Call Solutions Chat-room-based video call solutions should truly be used only by adults. So if you have children and you want or expect them to make video calls with family and friends, a chatroom-based video call solution is not for you, though of course it is your decision. Being a father and knowing what I do about computer security and the issue with predators and pedophiles, chat-room-based solutions are suited for adult use only! Statistics show that 65% of all predators initiate a conversation with a child in a chat room. IRC Chat should be included in this. If you are a concerned parent, block all chat-room-based solutions. Of course, not all solutions are created equal and some have parental controls, like PalTalk Chat that allows you to show only G-rated content, but in reviewing these solutions over the past couple years, many solutions have a policy of appropriate use, but I do not trust someone else’s policy, I trust my own controls when it comes to children. Only two solutions had good enough video to be considered: CUWorld and EyeBall Chat, but since they are chat-room-based, I only rated them a 3 due to the possible exposure.
Apple iChat AV is a great Mac-to-Mac solution, but does not have a Windows client. AOL AIM client can work with Apple iChat AV to provide a PC-to-Mac solution, but it is so bad for a video call and is so firewall unfriendly that we do not recommend this solution. As mentioned in the Windows video call section, SightSpeed is one of the best designed solutions available and works for both Mac and Windows systems, so you can call people using either operating system. As stated in the previous section, we recommend using both solutions for the flexibility to make video calls with users of either solution and to users with Windows PCs. More details on video call solutions for the Mac will be covered in Chapters 6 and 7.
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Here you can enable or disable video, set and test your webcam, and adjust if it will start automatically or who you can send and receive video to. Currently, Skype video is 15fps and uses the On2 video codec, the same codec that Macromedia Flash uses, so a very good one. With the two issues I have with Skype video aside, since not everyone will have multiple audio devices for Skype and do not need the picture-in-picture to be larger, Skype’s video is very good and provides for an adjustable screen and full screen capability. Skype’s addition of video has really caused video calls to be more popular as I see more and more of my contacts add webcams to use Skype’s video call option. I expect Skype will fix my issues over time and make Skype one of the best solutions available for a one-on-one video call solution. I must say the reason I rated Skype a 4 is because of the lack of a Mac client and the two issues I personally have with it, and I know many of my fellow Skypers that want to interact with their children and parents as I do want these two items improved as well.
If you want to communicate with friends and family, then using a computer is the best solution because most of us now have and use computers regularly. If you have older family members who are not as computer literate or who have no real interest in using a computer, you may also want to get a dedicated video telephone device to place video calls with people without a computer or use a compatible video call software that works with hardware video telephone devices.
Video Call Software Solutions Chapters 6 and 7 will cover in more detail the video call software solutions available. Here, we will touch on some of the more popular solutions available for computers.
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Many providers offer faster packages for a higher monthly rate. Keep in mind, however, that these are “maximum” speeds, and your DSL provider does not guarantee these speeds. What you get is what you get, and as long as it works, your DSL provider will not do much to improve the speed for you. Over the years providers have made improvements to their services, so you can get faster DSL service, but distance is still a limiting factor with DSL.
The hardware video telephone devices are nice options for those that do not want to use a computer or want to have both a computer solution and a hardware solution. Also, they are for those that want more of a traditional telephone-type solution or have the capability to easily connect it to a television for a larger picture. Keep in mind that these are not corporate business videoconferencing solutions like we will discuss in Chapter 8. Business videoconferencing solutions are far more expensive and have more specific networking needs and features for complex networks and higher-end videoconferencing requirements. If you are a small business looking for a non-computer videoconferencing solution, you can use a video telephone in conjunction with a television for a cost-effective, entry-level videoconferencing solution.
When you establish a video call by selecting the icon for Live Messenger and the icon for MSN Messenger within an IM window, Messenger auto senses the bandwidth available and slows the frame rate to match the broadband connection while maintaining a great image quality. When someone invites you to a video call, you will see the following screen. Just select Accept to start the video call.
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So What Solution Should You Choose? We recommend you start by using a computer-based video call solution discussed in this chapter and that we will cover in detail in Chapters 6 and 7. If you want to use something other than the computer or want to have something in addition to a computer solution, then you need to decide whether or not you want to join a VoIP service provider? We would recommend that, unless you already are a VoIP user or want to switch to VoIP in the next year, you get a non-service-provider solution. If other parties that you want to communicate with use a VoIP service provider, then seriously consider that provider’s video telephone option, because the cost is only slightly more and it will perform well and will come preconfigured, so it’s easy to install and use.
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Custom or proprietary Many solutions such as Skype may use standard protocols or codecs, but then do custom things like encryption or custom video codecs for better compression and so forth. These solutions will not be able to communicate with other solutions unless a gateway is used to translate the custom protocol to a standard protocol.
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NOTE Switching to a VoIP provider can save you 50% or more on your local and long distance telephone charges. Many of the VoIP service providers also offer a video telephone option so that you can make video calls to anyone using the same service.
Black Crow will have an improved video telephone coming out at the end of 2006. When used without a service provider, these devices require “port forwarding” to be configured on a DSL/cable router. Hardware solutions are a little more technical because of the required router configuration, but we have provided a list of ports for these devices in Appendix A to make it easier for you to test whether or not these devices will work for your needs.
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Since 2000, he has used a wide array of video call solutions to bring an incredibly diverse group of contributors, designers, and programmers together, in many cases with extremely limited direct contact. Jason holds an MBA in Marketing and Supply Chain Management from Rutgers Business School and a BA from Rutgers College. He lives in Morris County, NJ, with his wife, Kimberly. A cancer survivor, he is most interested in how video call technology can be used to improve the lives of the elderly and infirmed by bridging the gap between patient, family, and medical experts.
So start a video call, you just select the user name and then you have three choices: Start a video call, Send a video e-mail, or Send IM. Just double-click the user name to call your contact or select one of the icons for the action you want to perform. The following screenshot shows the basic interface once you are in a video call. In the following screenshot I am using SightSpeed 4/5 with the Philips SPC900NC webcam and the test image is on SightSpeed 4/5 with a Logitech 5000 webcam on a cloudy, rainy day.
Messenger has one of the best quality images available. It can maintain the image quality even with a slower frame-rate adjustment that the application chooses based on the speed of the Internet connection and the user cannot adjust.
SIP-Compliant Devices Three video call software solutions may work with devices that are SIP compliant: Polycom PVX, Pulver’s FWD Communicator, and CounterPath’s EyeBeam software if you want to talk to one of these devices with a computer running Windows. EyeBeam also has an Apple MAC version that may work as well. Again, since there is some configuration needed for SIP, you will need to test your SIP provider to see if you can get the software solutions to work with a SIP-compatible video telephone device unless they support direct IP dialing.
Beamer FX Videophone Like the standard Beamer Videophone, this device connects to your home telephone to enable you to talk to others with a similar device. It actually sends a series of pictures, so it’s more of a picture phone than a videophone.
WigiWigi–Vwho Pro Vwho Pro is a video call application that can have a high-resolution video call for two to nine users. It does not matter what Instant Messaging tool you are using to invite a contact to a video call. As we discussed in Chapter 6, all you have to do is press the CTRL key three times and it sends your IM contact your IP address to start a video call.
If the name indicates anything, I expect that Spontania will add additional video capability to other IM solutions like AIM, MSN, GoogleTalk, and Yahoo so that you can have a video call with any user from any IM, but that is only a guess at this point based on the name. To make a video call with Video4IM you install Skype first and then install Video4IM and configure it. I recommend that once installed you change the default settings of Video4IM. From the menu, select Options | Video Device Setup and you will see the following screen.
Also, the VoIP providers will ship you preconfigured devices, so setup is easy — just plug it in and call. If you were to compare the same video telephones with and without a VoIP service provider, we would expect better performance with the VoIP service provider than with a service from a straight Internet service provider. VoIP service providers have contracts with the main backbone providers of the Internet to route voice and video traffic in a faster way around the general Internet to improve quality and give priority to their traffic. In this section we will discuss options to avoid subscribing to a VoIP service provider. Not all video telephone devices are capable of performing calls without a VoIP service provider.
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VoicePulse VoicePulse is another VoIP or digital phone service that soon will offer the option of a video telephone. We have no information other than it is planning the release in 2006.
The Ojo and a Television The Ojo does not connect to a television, limiting this device to stand-alone only. It uses the MPEG4 video codec, which provides a very sharp video image. The screen is seven-inch diagonal — larger than most other video telephones.
For example the DLink and Black Crow videophones use the system’s IP address to initiate a call to another device or solution somewhere on the Internet by its IP address. All you need to know is your family’s or friend’s Internet address to initiate the video call. Many of the software video call solutions, such as SightSpeed, Skype, MSN Messenger, Yahoo, and Apple iChat AV, use a log-on server and contact list to initiate the call. Even if the video call software used the same protocols as a video telephone device, you could not call a Skype or MSN Messenger user from your Black Crow or DLink videophone without a gateway to locate the user and redirect your call to the correct person.
Satellite Broadband Satellite broadband allows high-speed access basically anywhere in the world where there is a clear view of a communication satellite that provides broadband access. In the United States, satellite broadband service is offered anywhere with a clear view of the southern sky. Installation and equipment costs are steep, around US$500, so the initial charge might be tough for consumers to swallow, but the monthly fee (around $60 per month) is similar to other high-speed options.
To switch back to the normal screen, just select the icon and you will be back to the main interface. Also, the full screen keeps the proper aspect ratio and will not stretch like MSN Messenger does.
PalTalk Premium PalTalk Premium is a Multi-IM video call solution. Like several other solutions, you can see your AIM, ICQ, MSN, and Yahoo contacts and make video calls with them if they are also using PalTalk. PalTalk is a Chat Room model and has parental controls that does allow you to specify that only G-rated chat rooms may be seen and used. As we stated already, Chat Rooms are dangerous for children, so this product needs parental guidance if used by children. PalTalk offers two commercial solutions: PalTalk Plus gets you up to six video windows and increased image quality and frame rate and no pop-up advertising. PalTalk x-treme offers unlimited video windows, image quality, and frame rate, and no advertising. The version you would want is the PalTalk x-treme version as you want video quality and frame rate.
Festoon As we discussed in the previous section, Festoon is a plug-in for Skype and GoogleTalk to add video call capabilities to these two IM solutions. Festoon enables you to have a multiuser video call as well for up to six users at a time. Since Festoon will be adding support for video calls for the other major IM solutions: AIM, MSN, and Yahoo, Festoon would be one of the better multi-IM video call solutions. Festoon is very firewall friendly, so no special configuration is needed since it uses ports 80 and 443.
Basically, does the video have a sharp image (like a photograph) and give up speed (frames per second – fluid video motion) for performance, or does it give up sharpness for better speed and more fluid motion? We conclude that image sharpness is the first preference and fluid motion second. What good is it if your lips are in sync with the audio if you cannot see the image clearly?
Skype 2/0 My last book, Skype Me, by Syngress Publishing, was completed just before the release of Skype 2/0 that added video to the Windows client. Skype adding video has taken video calls to the next level with users of the famed voice application adding video call capability.
Additional Accessories If you want to connect your video telephone to your television, you may need long RCA cables to reach your television (if you place the video telephone on the coffee table, for example). We found two providers that have video RCA cables from 6 feet up to 50 feet. If you need to add a telephone, purchase a single cordless telephone that has a speakerphone so there are no cables to deal with.
To make a video call, you just select one of your contacts. By default, when you double-click a contact, you call them.
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Video Telephone Options Video telephones, as the name suggests, are some form of device that acts and sometimes looks like a telephone with the added feature of performing video. We mentioned earlier that to separate the terms, use video telephone to describe a device that looks like a traditional telephone with a video screen and videophone to describe units that do not look like a telephone.
Clique Video Messenger Clique Video Messenger is a nice looking solution for video calls. Pricing is $99/50 per year for a subscription—on the pricey side for such a solution. It does have the ability of recording video postcards up to 3MB (3 minutes) for you to send to your family and friends. If the cost was much lower, or a one-time charge, the rating could be as high as a 4. Clique VM is firewall friendly.
For detailed information on corporate videoconferencing, you can also read Videoconferencing:The Whole Picture, by James R. Wilcox. Basically, what you need to know is that the solutions you are considering must match protocols and codecs to have a chance to communicate with one another. For example, the DLink and Black Crow video telephones discussed later in this chapter can communicate with each other and with PolyCom PVX, Microsoft NetMeeting, or the Envision SL software that works on Windows-based computers. SIP softphones, such as those from Pulver Communicator or CounterPath (XTEN used by Vonage), can talk to SIP-compliant video telephones for the audio portion and possibly video as well.
WigiWigi—Vwho Pro WigiWigi Vwho is on the Multi-IM space as it allows you to initiate a video call from any IM application. It does not matter what IM tool you are using, if you can send a contact an IM, you can have a Vwho video call. As we discussed in Chapter 6, all you have to do is press the ‘CTRL’ key three times and it sends your IM contact your IP address to start a video call. Over the last year, WigiWigi has undergone some major improvements in terms of speed with a significant improvement in frame rate up to 45fps over a 128KBs connection with the DVD quality Pro version. WigiWigi has the ability to conduct a full speed video call with broadband connections as low as 128KBs, like slower DSL connections. Ashod hopes to have the Vwho Pro version with true DVD quality available in the near future. Vwho will also have an API so application developers can imbed VWho into their application.
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Imagine the ability to talk to someone far away and actually see the person you are talking with using live video. Picture yourself being able to play an Internet game while participating in a video call that lets you not only see the individual you’re playing with but also send funny comments via IM while waiting for your turn. Or imagine being able to send family members photos or, even better, video clips of the latest family outing.
What you select and use is really going to depend on how noisy your environment is and whether you want anyone listening to your video calls over your computer speakers. So if you already have speakers, then add a microphone first and give it a try. If you find you do not like the quality or the echo (your speakers’ feedback into your microphone), then add a headset and the Radio Shack switch. So the decision for a microphone and headset will then be based on cost and comfort, so purchase what your budget allows, but there is nothing like a comfortable headset for long video calls.
Other vendors offer models with other features that you may want to consider, so research the vendors and decide what you want and can afford. I do not recommend buying a device with a built-in cable modem because your flexibility will be reduced. If you need one, cable modems can be rented or purchased, and you could end up moving and use something other than a cable modem for your broadband Internet access.
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Although this speed is on the low end of the requisite speed for making a video call, it will only get better in time. Let us just say that cellular broadband services like those currently offered from the cell phone companies are not what the home user wants for video calls. But if you need to make some level of video calls on your laptop and you are not near a WiFi hotspot, this could be a solution, even though it is a little slow for a fast video frame rate.
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Summary In this chapter, we started to discuss the details of what you need to place video calls and to protect you, your children, and your computer from potential threats of the Internet. We discussed using a broadband router, whether or not to use a computer for video calls, and what the minimum requirements are for computers to perform video calls. We discussed Windows PCs and Apple Mac PCs and Webcams for Windows and Apple Mac systems. We also started to discuss the security aspects of Webcams and how best to monitor their use if you have children or are concerned if someone on the Internet might be able to turn it on when you least expect it. We also discussed some considerations for lighting when using a Webcam and computer video call solution. We discussed headsets, speakers, and microphones for your audio needs.
DLink i2eye Broadband VideoPhone (DVC 1000 / DVC 1100) The DVC 1000 (wired only) and DVC 1100 (wireless 802/11b and wired) are the same device as the Black Crow BCV-103 but with much lower video quality and the option for an 802/11b wireless connection. First, 802/11b wireless for video is not a good solution, so the DVC 1100 is not worth looking at, and with a device available that has better video than the DLink 1000, why bother with this device? I evaluated the DVC1100 and found the video quality to be much poorer than the Black Crow with the Sorenson video chipset.
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For these situations, we suggest using a monitoring solution. Monitoring solutions are designed to monitor a user’s e-mail, IM, Web, and computer usage and report it in some way, even without the user knowing since they often run in “stealth” mode. As we said in Chapter 2, if you give children access to the Internet, you have the obligation to monitor their access 24x7. Of course, you cannot physically do that, so we recommend using one of the monitoring solutions that will notify you of your child’s activity on the Internet and even e-mail it to you.
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SIP Video Call Solutions SIP-based video call solutions are an interesting option in the video call space. SIP is the protocol that is used in Enterprise VoIP solutions and is a way that SIP clients of all kinds connect to a central server and connect to other SIP clients. Mostly this is for voice calls and VoIP service providers like Vonage, Packet8, and enterprise VoIP solutions from Cisco, Nortel, and Avaya to name a few.
As you can see, the speeds are acceptable for video calls, and the service is reasonably priced. If you cannot get a cable modem, this might be an option for you. With this service, you should be capable of making good video calls.
GrandStream GXV-3000 The GrandStream GXV-3000 is a new video telephone at a great price point. It has all the latest features we would expect from a video telephone. It also uses the higher-quality MPEG4 video codec, so a much sharper image than other video telephones.
The video mail is not sent to you in a large e-mail; rather, it is stored on the SightSpeed server and only a short message telling you that you have a video mail message waiting is sent to you. In addition, you can send video mail to other SightSpeed users or any Internet e-mail address. SightSpeed is also firewall friendly, so will work most anywhere.
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EyeBeam is the best of the Xten SIP softphones as you are able to configure multiple SIP providers. A maximum of five users for video are supported just like INEEN and the YAK softphones. EyeBeam can be used with multiple SIP service providers or can do a direct IP video call. EyeBeam is not firewall friendly, and needs to have ports configured per Appendix A.
TIP I would have to say from the specifications, this is one of the best options for a video telephone. It has all the features one would want or need for a video telephone.
Of course I cannot go into great detail on all the solutions, but over the course of the past two years and in writing this book I did test all of them, so I was able to get a good idea of what the solutions are all about. I was also able to evaluate the basic video call functions each solution has and what you get for what they cost. Video call software is fairly easy to evaluate; I look at how easy it is to install, how a user connects to the solution, how easy the solution is to use, and of course, the quality of the video call. Very quickly a person can determine if a solution will work for their particular needs.
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Lycos Phone Lycos Phone (still in beta) is a new option in the video call space, and is more focused at competing in the voice call space than the video call space. As we discussed in Chapter 6, this is a Windows-only solution currently and has a video phone, but you do not get any extra video features with the paid version. Lycos Phone has regular phone features, instant messaging, music, web, and movie options.
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We always recommend that you use the latest released version and avoid BETA solutions because BETAs do have bugs that may cause you some issues. Windows Live Messenger or MSN Messenger is also available in just about every language you might need.
The VVX 150 business IP phone is a high quality, two-line, IP phone that delivers reliable performance and an enterprise grade sound quality. It is ideal for home offices or shared/common areas or any: locations that needs simple and reliable voice connectivity.