Tech Time: Video Conferencing

Internet video conferencing allows family and friends (business associates too) to see and hear each other in real time; to effectively have a conversation with someone as if there were sitting in the room beside you. To make it work, each ‘caller’ needs to have a PC/Mac with a webcam, microphone and speakers (or headset) in addition to internet connectivity and the right software to pull it all together.

There are several software options that are rich in features, light reliable and best of all free! Some of the best internet chat options are bundled with instant messenger programmes such as Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger), Yahoo! Messenger with Chat, AIM and my new favourite Google Chat. Each have built in video conferencing features, but dedicated video conference software by and large offers better performance.

In that category, Skype is king. Skype offers good video and audio quality on a stable platform with easy to use features and navigation. Another big bonus, you can run Skype from a jump drive. But, several competitors are giving Skype a challenge including VZO Chat (used by TVJ), SightSpeed, iChat and ooVoo which allows for multiple participants (at a cost).

In choosing the option that is best for you and your family, consider these common features:

· Voice chat, texting and instant messenger options
· PC to PC calling
· PC to phone calling
· Chat room access and moderation
· Multiple participants
· File transfer, sharing and collaboration

Once you have chosen the software that is best for you, use and tradition phone to call your friends and family to walk them through the set up; then enjoy one big Christmas dinner with real time online video chats.

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