Writer: Dr. Mariah Smith Morgan, MSU Extension Service
One of the best things about life today is the way technology allows people to stay connected across long distances.
Recently, a friend was unable to travel to a grandfather’s funeral. Along with other friends and family, we huddled around an iPhone and watched the funeral live using an app called FaceTime. We did it up right with flowers, food and stories galore. It was a unique way to bring family together to celebrate the life of a loved one.
Other family occasions may call for the use of video chat technology. Families want to stay in contact even though loved ones are overseas or away at college. One way to keep in touch is by using a Web-conferencing or desktop-videoconferencing system or mobile apps like FaceTime, OoVoo or Skype.
The mobile video chat apps can be downloaded from the iTunes Store if you have an iPhone or iPad or from the Google Play store if you have an Android. All of the apps are free and relatively easy to use.
A Web-conferencing system includes the conferencing software, a webcam and a microphone. In addition, users must also have a computer and a high-speed Internet connection. There are many types of Web-conferencing software; some are free, while others charge a nominal fee. When selecting Web-conferencing software, there are several important elements to consider.
How many computer locations do people need to be able to communicate together at one time? Some software packages allow for people on two computers to communicate at the same time, while others allow for people on 10 or more computers to participate in the conference.
Many popular choices, such as Skype and Adobe Connect Now, offer free videoconferencing between two people, but extra services require an upgrade. Other videoconferencing software, such as Oovoo or iVisit, offer free Web conferencing or video chatting. Both Facebook and Google+ offer video chatting features.
Besides the software, users will need a webcam and microphone. Many newer laptop computers have built-in webcams and all laptops have built-in microphones usually located behind the keyboard. However, these built-in features may not offer the quality or flexibility needed for a video chat. If you are looking for a webcam, consider the resolution, megapixels, pan and tilt, as well as the mount.
Less expensive webcams have a resolution of 640x480, which is adequate for most users. More expensive webcams usually have a resolution of 720p, which is a technical term for a high-definition resolution of 1,280x720. When considering resolution, remember that the higher the resolution, the more bandwidth the conference will consume.
Bandwidth is a term that refers to the amount of Internet available at one time. So, for example, if you are on a video conference with someone overseas and your child is looking up information on Google for a science project, then you may not have enough bandwidth to run the video chat at the higher resolution.
Most webcams are measured in both video resolution and effect resolution. Effect resolution is measured in megapixels. Usually, webcams are rated at 1.3 megapixels or higher. A webcam with 1.3 megapixels will take a photo that measures 2x3 inches or a photo that can be uploaded to Facebook.
Buy a webcam with a built-in microphone, or you will need to buy a stand-alone microphone. Lastly, be sure that the webcam is compatible with the operating system. For example, if your computer is using Windows XP, the webcam must be compatible with Windows XP.
If you don’t want the hassle of buying extra equipment or software, simply whip out your smartphone to stay connected with friends and family. Video chat might set the Emily Posts of the world on their ears, but when it comes to connecting family during important moments, it’s OK to set the rules aside -- as long as you have food afterwards. Otherwise, it would just be in poor taste.