In one episode during its run from 1967 until 1978, The Carol Burnett Show featured a skit about a phone that allowed you to see the person you were talking to. How futuristic!
In the skit, Harvey Korman called his wife, Carol Burnett, at home from his office. Not only could Korman see his wife in the phone, he could also see all that was in the background, including Tim Conway, whom we presume should not have been there. While Burnett nervously chatted with her husband, Conway did his best not to be seen by Korman: he hid behind a plant, slithered under the rug, pretended to be furniture. You get the idea.
And thus we have stumbled upon one — and maybe the only — downside to video conferencing.
In most cases, seeing those in the room you are calling is a welcome experience and has made video conferencing one of the most enjoyable advances in technology. Ask any far-away grandparent!
To video conference with someone through a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone requires specific software. Four such programs are “Skype,” “iChat,” “Facetime,” and “GoogleTalk.” Video chatting is now available through Facebook as well.
Skype is free software. It is easily downloaded from the internet, and it can be used by Windows and Apple users alike. iChat and FaceTime, which are proprietary to Apple devices, come preinstalled by Apple or are free to download from the Apple App Store. GoogleTalk can be used on computers or in Android Phones.
There are differences among these programs but their purpose is the same: to allow you to see the person/people you are talking to on your screen, and to allow them to see you.
To video chat, you will need:
- A device with a webcam and microphone (if you computer does not have a built-in webcam, you can purchase an external webcam. (You cannot video chat from the original iPad. There is no built-in camera and you cannot add one)
- One of the video chat software programs
- An internet connection (a network connection is preferable to a 3G connection)
- Someone to chat with
Some tips for quality video conferencing:
- The camera is at the top of your screen but the images of the person you are chatting with might be in the middle of the screen. Don’t forget to look up at the camera every once in a while or your friends will only see the top of your head. You should also move your chat window as high up on your screen (as close to the camera) as possible.
- Plan ahead by phone, text, or email to chat at a specific time. Video conferencing does not often happen randomly, nor is it always a welcome intrusion.
- Don’t spend too much time on your hair, makeup, or outfit in preparation for video chatting; despite your effort, you — and everyone else — will look pretty distorted. Don’t be disappointed.
Unless you are Carol Burnett hiding Tim Conway from Harvey Korman, enjoy the wonders of video chatting!