Category: Video-conferencing

Amazon positions Alexa as the landline phone replacement

Articles Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

Echo Show

Amazon officially unveils touchscreen Echo Show | The Verge

Amazon launches Echo Show smart speaker with touchscreen and video calling | The Guardian

Alexa Calling And Messaging

Amazon now lets you make hands-free calls on all Alexa devices | Mashable

Amazon enables free calls and messages on all Echo devices with Alexa Calling | TechCrunch

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

Product Pages

Echo Show

Alexa Calling And Messaging

My Comments

Amazon is treading in hot water here by taking the Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform further as an IP-telephony platform.

This has come about with the arrival of the Echo Show videophone which is equipped with a 7” colour LCD touchscreen. For its audio, it is equipped with a pair of Dolby-optimised speakers and an eight-microphone array.

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

The Amazon Echo with the Alexa platform now expected to be an IP telephone

The video functionality allows it to be an IP videophone that is part of the Alexa Calling And Messaging IP-telephony platform but be able to show Daily Flash news reports which I would see as being similar to those “newsbreaks” you see on TV. There is also the ability to run YouTube videos including those many cat videos, but Amazon is adding to the Alexa API the ability for any of the Skills to show visual information on the screen when you summon her. It can also show vision from network security cameras that are compatible with the Amazon Alexa ecosystem.

But the driver feature behind this device is that Alexa platform is running its own IP-telephony system that is driven by your voice. Here, you can place free calls or send voice messages to others who have any Amazon Echo device or the Alexa iOS or Android mobile-platform app, with the ability to place videocalls between Amazon Echo Show devices. There is a “Drop In” functionality where you can speak through to another Alexa-platform subscriber during a time window that the subscriber specifies without the subscriber doing anything to answer the call.

Social networks and mobile messaging

Amazon to become part of this crowded space of IP-messaging and social networking platforms

This service is another IP telephony platform that is competing with Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger, Apple iMessage/Facetime and others. Here, I see this as the start of a highly-crowded field where your smartphone will end up with many IP-telephony apps and you will have to decide which one to use to call your friends.

Some of the computer press also see it as a virtual landline telephone which may be seen as superfluous in the iPhone age. But there is a reality where these services are seen as a “catch-all” connection for a household or business. Similarly, a significant number of the older generation of telephone users place importance on these services due to these people relying on them for most of their lives. I also see it as being similar to various “smart landline telephone” efforts like the Telstra T-Hub and the Archos 35 Smart Home Phone, something that telcos are pushing as part of offering multiple-play consumer telecommunications services.

Using the common household phone

But do we expect Amazon Echo to serve a similar role to the traditional household telephone

What Amazon could do is either use one of the established over-the-top IP-telephony services for their Alexa Calling And Messaging service and say that it is powered by that platform. Or they could offer “gateway functionality” to one or more of these platforms so users can call people who are on these platforms for free. It would allow for a consolidated user experience for people who have contacts existing across one or more platforms. Similarly, Amazon could provide an on-ramp that telcos can exploit to allow Alexa users to place calls to landline or mobile telephony users including leaving messages on the telephony-service users’ voicemail services.

It is showing that a crowded marketplace is starting to exist for over-the-top IP-telephony services with customers having to place themselves on multiple IP-telephony platforms to be able to be reached in this manner.

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Dual-device videocalling–how about it?

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TV setups with large screens and powerful sound systems could also appeal to videocalls where many people wish to participate

A reality that is surfacing with online communications platforms is the fact that most of us prefer to operate these platforms from our smartphones or tablets. Typically we are more comfortable with using these devices as our core hubs for managing personal contacts and conversations.

But there are times when we want to use a large screen such as our main TV for group videocalls. Examples of this may include family conversations with loved ones separated by distance, more so during special occasions like birthdays, Thanksgiving or Christmas. In the business context, there is the desire for two or more of us to engage in video conferences with business partners, suppliers, customers or employees separated by distance. For example, a lawyer and their client could be talking with someone who is selling their business as part of assessing the validity of that potential purchase.

Old lady making a video call at the dinner table press picture courtesy of NBNCo

This is more so when there is that family special moment

But most of the smart-TV and set-top platforms haven’t been engineered to work with the plethora of online-communications platforms that are out there. This is although Skype attempted to get this happening with various smart-TV and set-top platform vendors to allow the smart TV to serve as a Skype-based group videophone once you purchased and connected a Webcam accessory supplied by the manufacturer.

The Skype situation required users to log in to the Skype client on their TV or video device along with buying and installing a camera kit that worked with the TV. This was a case of entering credentials or searching for contacts using a “pick-and-choose” or SMS-style text-entry method which could lead to mistakes. This is compared to where most of us were more comfortable with performing these tasks on our smartphones or tablets because of a touchscreen keyboard or hardware keyboard accessory that made text entry easier.

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

An Apple TV or Chromecast that has the software support for and is connected to a Webcam could simplify this process and place the focus on the smartphone as a control surface for videocalls

The goal I am outlining here is for one to be able to use a smart TV or network-connected video peripheral equipped with a Webcam-type camera device, along with their mobile device, all connected to the same home network and Internet connection to establish or continue a videocall on the TV’s large screen. Such a goal would be to implement the large-screen TV with its built-in speakers or connected sound system along with the Webcam as the videocalling-equivalent of the speakerphone we use for group or “conference” telephone calls when multiple people at either end want to participate in the call.

Set-top devices designed to work with platform mobile devices

A very strong reality that is surfacing for interlinking TVs and mobile devices is the use of a network-enabled video peripheral that provides a video link between the mobile device and video peripheral via one’s home network.

One of these devices is the Apple TV which works with iOS devices thanks to Apple AirPlay while the other is the Google Chromecast that works with Android devices. Both of these video devices can connect to your home network via Wi-Fi wireless or Ethernet with the Apple TV offering the latter option out of the box and the Chromecast offering it as an add-on option. As well, the Chromecast’s functionality is being integrated in to various newer smart TVs and video peripherals under the “Google Cast” or “Chromecast” feature name.

Is there a need for this functionality?

As I have said earlier on, the main usage driver for this functionality would be to place a group videocall where multiple people at the one location want to communicate with another . The classic examples would be for families communicating with distant relatives or businesses placing conference calls that involve multiple decision makers with two or more of these participants at one of the locations.

Social networks and mobile messaging

Most of the mobile messaging platforms offer some form of videocalling capability

In most cases, the “over-the-top” communications platforms like Facetime, Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are primarily operated using the native mobile client app or the functionality that is part of the mobile platform. This way of managing videocalls appeals to most users because of access to the user’s own contact directory that exists on their device along with the handheld nature of the typical smartphone that appeals to this activity.

It is also worth knowing that some, if not all, of the “over-the-top” communications platforms will offer a “conference call” or “three-way call” function as part of their feature set, extending it to videocalls in at least the business-focused variants. This is where you could have multiple callers from different locations take part in the same conversation. Such setups would typically show the “other” callers as part of a multiple-picture “mosaic” on the screen. Here, the large screen can come in handy with seeing the multiple callers at once.

How is this achieved at the moment?

At the moment, these set-top platforms haven’t been engineered to allow for group videocalling and users would have to invoke screen-mirroring functionality on their mobile devices once they logically associate them with the video endpoint devices. Then they would have to position their mobile device on or in front of the TV so the other side can see your group, something which can be very precarious at times.

How could Apple, Google and co improve on this state of affairs?

Apple TV - Mirroring on - iPad

Should this still be the way to make group videocalls on your Apple TV or Chromecast?

Apple and Google could improve on their AirPlay and Chromecast platforms to provide an andio-video-data feed from the video peripheral to the mobile device using that peripheral. This would work in tandem with a companion Webcam/microphone accessory that can be installed on the TV and connected to the set-top device. For example, Apple could offer a Webcam for the latest generation Apple TV as an “MFi” accessory like they do with the game controllers that enable it to be a games console.

When users associate their mobile devices with a suitably-equipped Apple TV / Chromecast device that supports this enhancement, the communications apps on their phone detect the camera and microphone connected to the video peripheral. The user would then be able to see the camera offered as an alternative camera choice while they are engaged in a videocall, along with the microphone and TV speaker offered as a “speakerphone” option.

What will this entail?

It may require Apple and Google to write mobile endpoint software in to their iOS and Android operating systems to handle the return video feed and the existence of cameras connected to the Apple TV or Chromecast.

Similarly, the tvOS and Chromecast platforms will have to have extra endpoint software written for them while these devices would have to have hardware support for Webcam devices.

At the moment, the latest-generation Apple TV has a USB-C socket on it but this is just serving as a “service” port, but could be opened up as a peripheral port for wired MFi peripherals like a Webcam. Google uses a microUSB port on the Chromecast but this is primarily a power-supply and network-connection port. But they could, again, implement an “expansion module” that provides connectivity to a USB Webcam that is compliant to the USB Video and Audio device classes.

These situations could be answered through a subsequent hardware generation for each of the devices or, if the connections are software-addressable, a major-function firmware update could open up these connections for a camera.

As for application-level support, it may require that the extra camera connected to the Apple TV or Chromecast device be logically enumerated as another camera device by all smartphone apps that exploit the mobile phone’s cameras. The microphone in the camera and the TV’s speakers also would need to be enumerated as another communications-class audio device available to the communications apps. This kind of functionality could be implemented at operating-system level with very little work being asked of from third-party communications software developers.

User privacy can be assured through the same permissions-driven setup implemented in the platform’s app ecosystem that is implemented for access to the mobile device’s own camera and microphone. If users want to see this tightened, it could be feasible to require a separate permissions level for use of external cameras and audio-input devices. But users can simply physically disconnect the Webcam from the video peripheral device when they don’t intend to use it.

An alternative path for app-based connected-TV platforms

There is also an alternative path that smart-TV and set-top vendors could explore. Here, they could implement a universal network-based two-way video protocol that allows the smart TV or set-top device to serve as a large-screen video endpoint for the communications apps.

Similarly, a smart-TV / set-top applications platform could head down the path of using client-side applications that are focused for large-screen communications. This is in a similar vein to what was done for Skype by most smart-TV manufacturers, but the call-setup procedure can be simplified with the user operating their smartphone or tablet as the control surface for managing the call.

This could be invoked through techniques like DIAL (Discovery And Launch) that is used to permit mobile apps to discover large-screen “companion” apps on smart-TV or set-top devices in order to allow users to “throw” what they see on the mobile device to the large screen. As well, the connection to the user’s account could be managed through the use of a session-specific logical token established by the mobile device.

This concept can be taken further through the use of the TV screen as a display surface, typically for communications services’ messaging functions or to show incoming-call notifications.

Conclusion

What we still need to think of is to facilitate “dual-device” videocalling with the popular mobile platforms in order to simplify the task of establishing group videocalls using TVs and other large-screen display devices.

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WhatsApp to go native for regular computers

Article

Acer Switch Alpha 12 tablet press image courtesy of Acer

WhatsApp to work natively on your Windows 10 tablet

WhatsApp Has A New Desktop App For Windows And OS X | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

WhatsApp

Blog Post

Download link

My Comments

I have provided some previous coverage about the issue of native client apps that run on desktop operating systems for messaging platforms. As I have highlighted in the article, I underscored the performance issue which will benefit heavy multitaskers and gamers, the ability to work tightly with the operating system’s functions and abilities and the existence of 2-in-1s and ultraportable computers as a viable alternative to mobile-platform tablets.

Apple MacBook Pro running MacOS X Mavericks - press picture courtesy of Apple

.. or your Apple Macintosh computer

The regular computer was the class of compute that benefited from the instant-messaging app but mobile-platform smartphones and tablets took over the role of personal-communications devices with the different messaging platform vendors focusing on these devices as their terminal of choice. Skype and Viber have kept the desktop (regular-computer) usage case alive and now Facebook offered a Windows 10 desktop native client for their Messenger platform.

WhatsApp Android screenshot courtesy of WhatsApp

for secure online communications so you don’t have to rely on your smartphone or tablet

Now WhatsApp have answered this call for their secure communications platform by offering native clients for the Windows (8+) and MacOS X (10.9 Mavericks + ). Like with Viber, these desktop native clients are pitched to be a secondary user interface for your WhatsApp account that is set up on your smartphone. This means that once you install WhatsApp on your Windows PC or Mac, you then have to bind the desktop app to your WhatsApp account by using your smartphone’s WhatsApp client to scan a QR code shown on your regular computer by the desktop WhatsApp client.

For WhatsApp users, using these native clients rather than the WhatsApp Web application means that you have the benefits of this platform on your regular computer without the unnecessary overhead that the typical desktop Web browser can impose on your session. Nor do you need to keep a Web-browser tab or session open for desktop-based WhatsApp communication.

This is a sign that regular desktop and laptop computer users, including multitaskers and gamers, are not being forgotten about when it comes to mobile messaging networks.

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Older people using the Internet to link with relatives and friends

Article

The rise of the ‘GranTechie’: closing the generational gap | NBN Press Releases

My Comments

Skype Android

Skype for Android – one of the popular videoconferencing clients

It is now being identified that older people are finding computers and the Internet as valuable communications tools.

One technology that has allowed for this is videocalling that has been facilitated by Skype and Facetime. Both these popular IP videocalling applications have been engineered for simplified operation such as not needing any setup or configuration as far as the network is concerned. As well, Apple baked Facetime in to newer versions of the iOS mobile platform and made sure it had hooks to the user’s contacts directory on their iPhone as well as providing integrated behaviours for this solution. Similarly, Skype is being written to take advantage of application-programming interfaces that the various platforms offer as regards with directory management and other things are concerned. As well, there are smart-TVs and video peripherals that can work as Skype videophones once you add a camera / microphone accessory. These have made the process of making and taking videocalls more simplified and task-focused.

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 tablet

The Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 tablet – good for Skyping to relatives

As the article has said, the main driver with this is for people and families to communicate with relatives and friends who are separated by distance. An example of this that I have seen for myself was seeing a friend of mine in an armchair at home using their iPhone to engage in a long Facetime videocall conversation with another interstate friend who had a young child. Here, she talked to that friend’s child as though she and the child were in the same room. Similarly, an Italian who is my barber and whose computer I regularly support also makes use of Skype to keep in touch with his family in Italy.

Old lady making a video call at the dinner table press picture courtesy of NBNCo

A video call at the dining table

Other technologies that were being embraced were Facebook and email as ways to share messages and photos. They were also raising the issue of the Internet being used to allow this kind of connection on a highly-frequent basis such as every week. The article also highlighted the smartphone and tablet as an enabling form factor due to their highly-portable nature – they can use these devices from where they are highly comfortable as I have cited before. In some cases, it has become possible to show the distant relative around the house simply by carrying one of these devices around during the videocall.

A technique worth investigating and showing to older people and their families is the use of Dropbox and similar services as a way to distribute high-resolution photos and video footage in a manner that allows the relatives to “take it further” like creating high-resolution prints. I highlighted this in an article about making Dropbox and similar services work with a DLNA-capable NAS highlighting the applications like printing, showing on a DLNA-capable TV, or maintaining occasion-based photo/video content pools consisting of images contributed by many people.

What has been shown in the article is that a killer application has been identified for personal-computing and Internet technology amongst a certain class of users. This killer application is for older people to use this technology to maintain contact with distant relatives and friends in an improved manner.

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Assistance Journal–Using a separate network connection to troubleshoot Skype

A few weeks ago, I had visited my barber to help him out with this home IT needs as part of a “quid pro quo” arrangement. He had a few issues with Skype underperforming because with him being an Italian migrant, he relies on this videoconferencing tool to communicate with his family back in Italy.

A test I had done as part of troubleshooting Skype was to run an Internet-based videocall. This was done using my smartphone running the Android version of Skype and connected directly to the Telstra 4G network while his laptop was connected to the home network via Wi-Fi and the network was serviced by a cable-modem broadband Internet service. Here, I had started the Skype videocall further away from the laptop so as to avoid acoustic feedback or unnecessary echo while using my headphones to hear my barber on my smartphone when he was speaking in to his laptop.

Here, I hadn’t noticed any problems with the Skype conversation when the Internet connection was used, with the call not sounding stuttery or the video not being choppy. But an international VoIP connection can show up problems at different times of the day such as during peak Internet times like daytime for one of the countries.

This is similar to a Skype “dry-run” I suggested to someone else whose daughter was heading off to the UK as part of an exchange-student programme. Infact, doing a test call where both devices are on a separate Internet connection can be used to determine whether Skype, Viber or similar VoIP applications are behaving properly. In the case of Viber, there is a desktop softphone client available for this VoIP service.

Separate Internet connection

The requirement is that one device is connected to a wireless-broadband modem or another network serviced by a separate Internet connection. This can be easy for a smartphone or tablet that is associated with a wireless-broadband service, but you would have to disable the Wi-Fi network functionality so that the mobile device doesn’t associate with the home network. In the case of a laptop, you may have to connect via a wireless-broadband modem, “Mi-Fi” router or another network service by a separate Internet service. This could be your work’s network, a neighbour’s home network or a wireless hotspot at a library or café.

Acoustic isolation between the devices

Similarly, headphones or a handset like one of the “trendy old-look” handsets that you connect to a smartphone can come in handy here to avoid echo and acoustic feedback if you are in the same house. Here you would need to use this with one of the devices or use one device well away from the other device such as in another room, preferably behind a closed door.

These arrangements can he useful for either practising the use of Skype or similar VoIP software on a new device or interface; or troubleshooting a balky VoIP connection,

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Viber now competes with Skype as a free desktop softphone program

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Viber – Free calls, Free text messages, photo and location sharing

My Comments

Viber 3.0 Desktop Client for WindowsPreviously, we have known of Viber as an “over-the-top” VoIP telephony program that offers a free telephony and SMS path for smartphone users. This has been of strong appeal to overseas travellers who want to escape the horrendous roaming charges that most mobile operators are charging people who use the phone out of their home country.

Now Viber have reached version 3.0 and released a desktop version of the softphone which will run on Windows or Macintosh regular computers. This has provided features like desktop-to-desktop videocalls and the ability to transfer a call between the regular computer and a mobile device. This is a sign that Viber has matured and started to approach Skype.

But for Viber to answer Skype, they have to offer IP-based videocalls on mobile clients. Similarly, they would need to provide the client software “knowhow” to enable the user interface to work on devices other than platform-based regular or mobile computing devices. This is somewhere where Skype has a considerable strength in with the Samsung and Sony smart TVs, the Panasonic Blu-Ray players, the desk phones, and the Logitech TV Cam HD Skype camera.

It can be easy to state that Viber’s free IP telephony model isn’t sustainable but they could offer services like partnership with some of the carriers like the French “n-box” carriers. They can also offer paid-for off-ramp services where a Viber customer could dial a regular phone that isn’t part of the Viber ecosystem. It can extend to a software-based “trunk” or “tie-line” for IP-based business phone systems as a subscription-driven business-to-business service.

Now that Viber has hit the stage of maturity, we could be seeing the opening of lively competition on the “over-the-top” IP-based voice and video telephony front for both consumers and small businesses.

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A reasonably-priced add-on solution for integrating Skype with your TV

You have that existing flatscreen TV that isn’t enabled for Skype but want to add this function to it. It may range from a cheap-brand 32”-37” flatscreen that you have bought just to get in to digital TV or have something that fits in easily with your lounge area. On the other hand, you may have bought that European-brand unit that excels in the video-quality stakes but isn’t part of the “smart-TV” bandwagon. In some cases, you may have one of those smaller “computer monitor size” LCD TVs that are typically pitched for use in a bedroom.

But how do you enable this set for Skype videocalls on the large screen without having to rope in a computer for this purpose. This is very important if you are setting up for an older relative who isn’t sure about how to operate technology. The prices quoted here are the manufacturer’s recommended retail prices but the street prices in your area or online may be significantly cheaper.

Add Skype using a video peripheral

Before you answer this question, you would need to make sure that the area where the TV is in has access to Internet service via a regular small network like what is used at home. Here, you must be able to gain access to the Internet service without having to complete a Web-based login sequence or satisfy “enterprise-grade” login requirements, a problem that may affect users who live in retirement villages, resorts or caravan parks that provide public Wi-Fi wireless Internet.

If you have a decent functioning Blu-Ray player or home-theatre system in place, I would suggest that you go for the Logitech TV Cam HD which runs for AUD$249. This unit works as a dedicated “universal” Skype video camera that functions with any TV that has an HDMI connection.

But you don’t have a decent functioning Blu-Ray player or the DVD player just packed it in and you want to integrate this functionality in to the next Blu-Ray player you purchase.

As far as brands are concerned, Panasonic seems to be the only one who can offer a reasonably-priced entry-level solution involving a Blu-Ray player. Here, the prices I am quoting include the cost of the player and the cost of Panasonic’s TY-CC20W Webcam which sells for $130 and works with most recent Skype-enabled Panasonic video equipment.

A basic Blu-Ray option that offers Skype enablement would be the Panasonic DMP-BDT220 used along with the TY-CC20W camera. It would be the way to go if you have an AV receiver or don’t necessarily care about surround sound. This player has integrated Wi-Fi wireless connectivity

For those of you who value a home-theatre solution, Panasonic do run a systen which would cost AUD$730 This would be made up with the SC-BTT480 which is a Wi-Fi-ready Blu-Ray home theatre along with the same Panasonic camera. This would have the full surround-sound package along with FM radio, Blu-Ray playback and Viera Connect Smart TV functionality.

These units support use the Viera Connect functionality which would facilitate IPTV and video on demand functionality that is offered through this platform.

As well, most of these units use an Ethernet connection which can yield a more reliable network video connection than Wi-Fi wireless when your place is wired for Ethernet or you are using a HomePlug AV powerline segment.

Once you know what is available for a reasonable price, you can think of enabling that regular flatscreen TV set with Skype in a universal manner for an easy-to-use videocall setup.

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Assistance Journal–Getting the hang of Skype before your overseas-travelling child flies out

Just last night, I received a Facebook message from a close friend of mine regarding practising with Skype. Here daughter was about to fly out to the UK as part of an exchange-student programme that she enrolled in and she knew that I was able to provide her with computer assistance as required.

Here, I recommended that this close friend and her daughter set up for Skype so they can communicate with each other for free using this tool while she was in the UK. This included using the video-telephony feature so that they can see each other and see the overseas environment that they are in from afar.

This friend had completed Skype sessions with other relatives after setting up this program. Then I exchanged the contact details and integrated her details in my Skype contact list. After a long chat session, I was able to get her familiar with the user interface and have her practise the basic tasks. One of the test runs that was done was for the mother to have her laptop connected to the home network and the daughter’s laptop connected to a 3G modem so as to simulate the arrangement that would be used in the UK.

It is infact a good idea to do a “dry-run” with Skype if someone is heading overseas for a significant amount of time. This is more important if you are not confident with this program or with computers at all or you have set up a new computer or home network.

Similarly if you purchase a Smart TV or video peripheral that has Skype integrated and you then buy the camera accessory, you could use these “dry runs” to get yourself familiar with the Skype implementation in the equipment.

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An add-on Skype videophone for the existing flatscreen TV

Article

Logitech TV Cam HD brings Skype video calls to your television | TechGuide

From the horse’s mouth – Logitech

Product Page

My comments

An increasing number of newer flatscreen “smart TVs” have Skype capability when equipped with an optional camera. But there are an increasing number of flatscreen TVs and TV-optical-disc-player combos sold at very affordable prices that don’t support this network ability. Add to this the number of flatscreen TVs currently in use that don’t have integrated network functionality.

Logitech have answered this situation by offering the TV Cam HD which is an add-on network videophone that plugs in to a regular flatscreen TV via its HDMI input. This videophone connects to your home network using Ethernet or 802.11g/n Wi-Fi wireless connection and uses the Skype IP-telephony service.

The camera can work at 720p resolution and uses a noise-cancelling microphone array in order to allow for use in a larger area. It also has a ringer which works whether the TV is on or off so you can quickly turn on the set and select the right input to answer that incoming videocall.

What I personally like of this camera is that there has been a lot of thought going into this product so it can be a videophone even if you focus on your TV’s picture and sound quality when buying that TV or allowing you to enable a cheaper set to work as a Skype video terminal. As well, it would be an ideal Skype solution for older people who need to keep in contact with distant relatives using this medium.

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Getting Skype ready for the Christmas season

Previous coverage

Feature Article – Videoconferencing on the home network

My Comments

Some of you may have relatives who are far away or are ill and unable to come out for the Christmas festivities. So you may find that Skype would work as a valuable too for this season.

Skype-enabled video devices

You may have recently purchased a Skype-enabled TV or, if you are in America, had Comcast install one of those new cable-TV set-top boxes. Increasingly, some of the “smart-TV” devices like TV sets, Blu-Ray players or network media adaptors may have Skype functionality on-board, able to work with an optional camera module.

If you are buying a device that you know has Skype integrated, make sure that you buy the Skype camera for this device. You could use this as a deal-maker when you are buying any of these devices. For the abovementioned Comcast subscribers, if you are running with the newer cable-TV boxes, contact your Comcast customer-service line and ask how you can get that Skype camera and whether the Skype facility is running.

Here, you could enable this device to an account primarily used by your household and make sure you have the camera accessory for the video equipment.

Your laptop computer

If you are using your laptop or other computer, you would need to connect it to the main TV screen. Nearly all plasma or LCD flatscreen TVs have a VGA or HDMI connection which can allow you to use it as your computer’s display. If you use a DisplayPort-equipped computer like a MacBook Air, you may need to use a DisplayPort-HDMI adaptor in order to use these connectors.

As well, you may have best results with this setup when you use a USB webcam or a regular video camera or camcorder connected to a USB-based AV capture card. Here, you can have the Webcam fixed at the top of the TV.

Configuring Skype appropriately

AV Peripherals

You may have to make sure that if you are using an HDMI connection or an external camera or microphone, you have the video and audio devices setup appropriately. Some HDMI setups may enumerate the audio feed to the HDMI device as a discrete sound device and you may have to select this as your sound output in Skype if you want the correspondent’s voice through the TV or home-theatre.

For the USB Webcam or the USB AV capture device, you would need to set Skype’s video source and microphone to the Webcam or AV capture device.

Quality of service

Skype does perform properly with quality of service for most Internet connections but I would make sure that you use a wired connection to the router or have a strong Wi-Fi connection between the wireless router and the device if you are using a Wi-Fi link.

You may want to do a “dry-run” call with the intended household before the big event so you are sure that it is going to work properly. This may be a limitation if you intend to have the Skype-enabled TV or video peripheral as a Christmas gift.

Contact Lists

Another good hint is to make sure that the households are registered on Skype and that each one is part of each other’s Contact List. This could be established by sending each other their Skype name through an email. It could be followed up by arranging a contact time to make this videocall through subsequent emails, taking into account the time differences between the locations.

Conclusion

With Christmas being the time to catch up with family and friends overseas, why not make it the time to do it with pictures the Skype way.

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