Okay now, sometimes I really feel stuck in south of France when I need to be working with people in Paris! Phone + email was cool until my phone bills rocketed in the past few months… :-/

Recently, I decided, with a couple of business partners, to give internet video conferencing a shot! Guess what my biggest surprise was?

It actually works! And pretty well!

Not only could we see each other while talking but it was even better than the real thing: sound quality outstrips mobile phones! Especially when compared to SFR (the crappiest - but very common - network we have in France). Now of course, it’s not perfect, but given the costs it’s more than enjoyable! Here are a couple of details on my experiments…

My webcam is a Creative WebCam NX Ultra, priced € 89. We all bought that same model. It offers state of the art video quality with a 640 * 480 CCD sensor delivering as many frames a second as you can possibly ask for, over a simple USB connection. But the best thing here is that the webcam ships with an included headset that allows for optimal sound quality since you’ll have the microphone right next to your month (again, closer than with most cell phones actually). Let me stress the fact that one of the key ingredients in successful voice communications is a good headset! (Yeah, forget about the cranky microphone you got with your sound card!)

Regarding software, we have been using Yahoo Messenger as well as Microsoft Messenger. Both have their pros and cons. But before going any further, you must be very aware of your internet connection limitations. As far as we are concerned, we have been using ADSL connections. Those are asymmetric. Typically a 512 kbps ADSL link only offers an 128 kbps uplink. So when you exchange data with the other end you’re constrained to those 128 kbps.

The other problem is IP addressing. If you’re serious about peer-to-peer video conferencing, you do need a routable IP address. If you have a single computer hooked up directly to the internet via an ADSL modem you’re probably all set. If you sit behind a router, a firewall and more generally inside of a NAT (Network Address Translation) network, you’re possibly in trouble.

Now, having both ends hooked up directly on 512/128 kbps ADSL, we got excellent results for voice communication with both MS Messenger and Yahoo Messenger. Video refresh rates were ranging from 1 to 5 fps. My personal recommendation would be to choose the better fluidity setting over better picture quality since the quality never really seems to change anyway, but the frame rate does.

MS Messenger has the additional benefit of offering white board and application sharing. On the other hand, Yahoo Messenger looks like it would allow for 3 way (or more) conferencing… We could not try that yet but that would definitely rock!

There are also several professional conferencing services out there but they seem to be really overpriced. One of our primary goals was to cut down on phone charges, remember? ;)

I’ll come back to this topic after some more testing.

Comments from long ago:

Comment from: Gust

Good summary. What if a product overcame the connectivity issues including firewall/NAT traversal, was easy to use AND was inexpensively priced. That is my product. VidMe. VidMe will deliver frame rates in the 12-24 fps range with CD quality sound and very low latency. It is fully adaptive to network and CPU conditions of both callers. It is 256 bit AES encrypted, both connection and contents. The $6.95 per month for unlimited calling to other VidMe users. Try it… 14 day free trial. You will be blown away.

When a call connects the program takes about 12 seconds to optimize the signal… bet you say “whoa!”

It is the better mousetrap and we are trying to get the word out. Let me know what you think.



2004-09-28 03-46