summarized by Holly McEntee
As luck would have it, Richard was in Miami, FL attending a conference during July's Mad Mac meeting. This lent itself quite well to the topic of videoconferencing. Dave Weston contacted Richard using three different applications — GoToMeeting, Skype, and FaceTime — to demonstrate each. All three made use of a small inset picture of Dave (at the transmitting end) in the corner of a larger picture of Richard (the person being talked to).
None of the three provided video close to the quality of streaming content, and there were delays, refresh problems, and pixellation. The sound was echoey. More experimentation might have helped with these quality deficiencies.
GoToMeeting is a web-hosted service of Citrix Systems. It is designed to host virtual corporate meetings of people in multiple locations. Fairly robust, as one would expect for a corporate service, it can manage meetings of up to 25 active members. (Other versions of the software can carry web seminars with up to 1000 attendees.) There is a chat option, and it can record a meeting for later reviewing. Because it is a web-based service, it can be used on any platform (Mac or PC) as long as each machine meets the browser requirements. GoToMeeting is free for a short trial basis, but costs $49/month or $468/year to own. During the Mad Mac meeting, Dave and Richard had the most difficulty connecting through GoToMeeting but finally managed it.
Skype is a very popular voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) application, recently bought by Microsoft. Skype allows users to contact other Skype users via voice, video, instant messaging, and phone calls. Up to five users can be involved in a Skype conference call. Skype is free, and calls to other Skype users are also free. Richard and Dave connected easily via Skype during the Mad Mac meeting and its controls were easy to use.
FaceTime is an Apple-specific app that works on any iOS device with a forward-facing camera and any Mac computer running OS X 10.6.6 or higher. FaceTime requires wi-fi, and up to 5 users can be active in a FaceTime conversation at once. Of the three services demonstrated, both Richard and Dave recommended FaceTime for Apple-to-Apple users. FaceTime is free through the App Store.
Richard provided the following helpful hints to keep in mind when videoconferencing with others:
- Frame your shot correctly, full face at yourself. That is, position your iPad or Mac in such a way that the camera isn't pointing up your nose or featuring the underside of your chin. You may need to stack books underneath your computer, or adjust your chair.
- Be aware of the lighting around you. If you have a lamp or sunny window behind you, the person with whom you are videoconferencing will see an indistinct silhouette of you instead of your expressions. Soft oblique lighting is best (unless you're deliberately being mysterious).
- Before using a videoconferencing service, make sure one of the people involved has experience with the app or service, and have a back-up plan (like your telephone). Make sure everyone knows who's the expert, and who will be contacting whom so you don't sit around thinking the other person is supposed to contact you (while they're thinking the same thing about you).
- Do not attempt to run two videoconferencing apps / services at the same time - your Mac or iOS device will get confused. Besides, you only have the one built-in camera.
- Video and audio quality are not app / service specific. How smoothly your video and audio connection works depends on the age of your device, the quality of the speakers and camera, and the reliability of whatever method you are connecting to the internet.