Friday, August 7, 2009

Video calling: Webcams are a welcome sight for sore ears

Seen it? Heard it? Video-calling is hard to avoid and new webcams and services are making it easier to keep in touch.

Video-calling has been “the next big thing” for more than a decade. Ever since the world’s first webcam – trained on a coffee pot in a Cambridge University computer lab – was connected to the internet in 1993, the idea of being able to see as well as speak to people has threatened to revolutionise phone conversations.

Now, however, and with little fanfare, that quiet revolution is playing an increasingly important role in our daily lives. The availability of fast mobile-phone networks, broadband internet and miniaturised technology has united businessmen and grandmothers: conference calls using video-streaming and large plasma TVs are standard; and Skype and instant messaging mean that keeping in touch with family halfway round the world is straightforward and doesn’t break the bank.

Initially, video-calling was hampered by three problems. Image quality, and delays of transmission, meant that the benefits were wiped out by grainy pictures that added little to conversations.

The technology itself was often cumbersome, with endless tweaks required to make gadgets that looked like beige plastic spiders deliver anything approaching reasonable quality.

Finally, a sheer lack of familiarity made video-calling an improbable prospect. Without critical mass, the technology was stymied.

The solution, however, has come almost by accident. Now it’s hard to buy a laptop that doesn’t include a perfectly adequate webcam built in to a tiny bezel above the screen. That, and the greater ubiquity of WiFi connections, have done away with the ugly wires that made setting up a webcam and getting online so unattractive. Increases in web speeds, meanwhile, allow for higher-quality images to be delivered over a conventional broadband line.

The tipping point, however, came as MSN Instant Messenger and all its equivalents began to make less fuss of video, and simply put a “video chat” button as an option next to all their “conversations”. Google Mail users are now two clicks from a video chat with any of their contacts, so long as both users have the right equipment.

It’s unlikely, in truth, that video-calling will entirely replace other ways of communicating any day soon – mobile phones, for instance, are seldom used for the purpose, although some new devices, such as the watch phone from LG, do place an emphasis on video chat.

But in the debate about how technology is changing our lives, video-calling has genuinely marked a shift in the way we interact.

By Claudine Beaumont and Matt Warman

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hey, Gang, Let’s Watch the Web Together

After I moved to the East Coast a few months ago, a few of my close friends and I became fans of video chatting via Google to keep in touch.

But as fun as it is to crack the laptop open alongside a bottle of wine while we catch up on gossip, there are some snags that make the experience less than pleasant.

For example, you can chat with only one person at a time — which, given my circle, means you aren’t getting the full, juicy recap of the previous night’s antics. And then there’s the problem of the dueling screens. Say one party starts watching a YouTube video during the chat. An irritating soundtrack blasts through the other end at full volume, sans the video stream. And even if your chatting partner sends you a link to whatever snippet she happens to be watching, you can’t simultaneously watch without audio interference.

Watchitoo, a start-up based in Israel and New York, offers a simple solution to that problem. On Tuesday, the company is publicly introducing a service that combines the concept of live video chatting with the sharing of content like videos — all in a single Web browser.

The service, which has been in private testing since May, allows Watchitoo users to create shows or rooms that can either be open to anyone or limited to a few invitees. So one member of the room can search for the latest Lady Gaga video or a clip from the BET awards on YouTube in the shared browser window and everyone can watch the video simultaneously — all while chatting via video or an instant messaging client embedded in the same browser.

“We’re taking the concept of collaboration from business and applying it to content,” said Rony Zarom, founder and chief executive of the company. “But beyond that, it’s about a new medium for watching TV and commentary on the Internet.”

Mr. Zarom, who founded Watchitoo in 2007, acknowledged that there were already a handful of competitors on the market, like Skype’s screen-sharing feature, Paltalk and View2gether.

The biggest drawback to using a service like Watchitoo is the lack of content: it’s great to watch portions of a show or a Keyboard Cat video with a friend, but it might not be enough of a lure to keep users coming back.

It’s also worth noting that several earlier social viewing initiatives introduced by CBS and MTV with a few of their hottest shows never really seemed to take off.

But Mr. Zarom is spurred on by the popularity of recent social viewing events, like CNN’s pairing of Facebook status updates with the live stream of President Obama’s inauguration. He hopes to eventually integrate his service with Twitter and Facebook, and broaden the slate of content partners, currently limited to Photobucket and Yahoo for sharing images, and YouTube for watching videos.

Mr. Zarom also says that Watchitoo’s patent-pending technology allows for a synchronized, stutter-free streaming experience that sets the service apart from the pack.

The service is free, but the company plans eventually to offer premium features for a fee.

Watchitoo is backed by seed funding from Decima Ventures, an investment firm established by Mr. Zarom in 2001, when he sold his first company, a mobile Web start-up called Exalink, to Comverse for $550 million.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Long distance Rakhi celebrations

The custom of tying a sacred thread, embellished with lots of love and affection, by a sister on the hand her brother has prevailed since time
immemorial. As history has it, Rani Karnavati of Chittor sent a rakhi to Humayun, the Mughal Emperor, praying for protection against Bahadur Shah, an invader from Gujarat.

The festival of Raksha Bandhan is dedicated to the love and affection shared between a brother and a sister. On this day, the sister ties a rakhi on the wrist of her brother, with this the brother promises to protect his sister from harm. In return, the sister prays for the well-being of her brother.

As tradition would have it, a brother sister duo should ideally take time out to celebrate the day together. But with today’s changing lifestyles and increasing distances, this festival has turned long distance as well. Apt rakhi cards, virtual rakhis and E-mails, leaving Rakhi wishes on each other’s Orkut and Facebook profiles are increasingly becoming popular.

Although most siblings still try and get together on this auspicious day, but sometimes it may be impossible. As Ridhi Kanwar, settled in the US, puts it, “I would love to meet my brother on this day, but how does one traverse the distances?”

But more than the gesture, it’s the sentiment which matters the most, affirms relationship expert Anu Goel. She says, “irrespective of distance and one's busy schedules, one can bond with their siblings if one is emotionally attached to them. You don’t need a day or a reason to express your love for your brother or sister. The feeling of affection comes from within and should not be saved for a particular day.”

Echoing similar views, Manish Jha, a Delhi-based banker adds, “my elder got married about ten years ago and shifted to Bhopal from Delhi. Ever since, we never had the opportunity to celebrate the festival together. Although she religiously couriers the rakhi every year on the occasion, we definitely miss out the celebration part associated with this festival. But nevertheless, our sentiments are still intact. She knows that I will be by her side whenever she needs me.”

So does distance really affect the brother-sister bond? We explore ways to make your sibling feel special on Rakhi, if you’re away -

Internet to the rescue
In an age of technology, the internet can play a vital role in diminishing physical distance and bring two individuals closer. Mahima Chawala, who is the manager of web/wap portal, has a unique style of celebrating Rakhi with her brother who is settled in Australia. “On every Raksha Bandhan, I mail a rakhi to my brother and we make it a point to celebrate the day by video chatting and sharing the virtual gifts through Twitters."

Saturday, August 1, 2009

VZOmobile Video Chat

Mobile video chat for Windows Mobile.

VZOMobile is a Videophone program for Windows Mobile. Mobile video call tool is easy to use and completely free. Allows you to make video calls to other communicators and to ordinary PC`s using the Internet connection. Register on VZOchat web site and use video chat in your own way. Your friends will be able to call you from even if they are not registered on VZOchat. Also you can place web widget for video calls on your own web page. Functions: turning on/off camera and microphone in a conference, camera switching (before the conference) , an address book, Today screen and Outlook integration, selection of the Internet connection, automatic bitrate tuning to a real bandwidth of your Internet connection and low bitrate requirements. Changes: Improved interface and usability, settings were moved to main program, added extended support of a video capture rotation. Many new devices were supported. With this program you will be able to show the most important details of things that around you. Video calls are supported on phones with Windows Mobile 5 and 6.x. 400Mhz or better CPUs are recommended.

VZOmobile uses the same technology platform as VZOchat video service. It uses scalable distributed architecture that has a lot of servers around the world: America, Europe and Asia.

Friday, July 31, 2009

TinyChat Twitterfies Video Chatrooms

We’re big fans of TinyChat (TinyChat) (in fact we use it to power the Mashable Lounge). Their live broadcasting web-based platform enables anyone with a webcam to create video chatrooms with social integration.

Today they’re announcing some pretty big updates to the service that will not only improve function, but also enhance their feature set. The freshly released updates will let users better control their own live show, benefit from better video quality, private message other chatters, and have access to the previously Mashable (Mashable)-only feature that can give your chat room a big boost — tweet your chat.

If you’re unfamiliar with TinyChat, it’s a live broadcasting and video conferencing service that pre-dates the new live video for Twitter (Twitter) services (think TwitCam (Twitcam)), and allows multiple users to do live video chat, invite others to view and participate in the chatroom, and record and download sessions (for pro users).

TinyChat’s has just pushed out a few new goodies, including two new commands/options that give room owners even more control over their broadcasts. The newly implemented changes mean you can control who can come on or off camera during your broadcast, and assign room owner controls to other users. The end result is that you can now manage a dynamic live show with very little effort.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

LG Mobiles rolls out a new GB210, GB270 and KP265 phones in India

Indian mobile enthusiasts can gear up for the latest mobile phones by LG. The company’s latest launches include the novel GB210, GB270 and KP265 handsets. A distinct combination of communication and productivity, this new range of phones offer to literally get the entire world in a user’s pocket, right at their fingertips.

The new mobile phones are modeled keeping in mind luxury and intelligence. With fashionable looks and in attractive designs, the handsets should be convenient for everyday use as well. They aim to take the stylish Indian mobile users mobile experience to new levels.

“Our new range of mobile phones will continue to deliver superior experiences with its innovative designs, features and also the affordable price range. With these launches, we aim to strengthen the bond with our consumers and also reach out to those who love to stay connected to their peers and desires a phone with good looks,” shared Anil Arora, Business Group Marketing Head, Mobile Communication, LG Electronics Pvt Ltd.

The LG GB270 boasts of being one phone with two different styles. The handset includes a changeable design cover and themes that allow users to enjoy a business plus casual look with the phone. Featuring a dual GUI theme, each time users’ choose to change the cover; a pop-up option lets them decide among the Business or Casual theme. Users can also to Sketch, Engrave or Emboss their photos captured with the phone’s smart VGA camera. The phone additionally includes the option of recording or putting on alarm their favorite Radio Stations thanks to scheduled FM Recording & FM Alarm feature. It sports a 2.0” inch LCD screen, 1,000 mAh battery, call Conversation Recording and memory of up to 2GB. The free changeable cover is accompanied by a 1GB card.

Upping the style quotient is the LG KP265 phone. Adorning a stylish Slider form factor, the device is dressed in an eye-catching red silver and black color combination. It is equipped with a 1.3 MP camera featuring 4x zoom and continuous video recording. Packed with an MP3 player with equalizers, the handset also includes Scheduled SMS, Bluetooth 2.0 with an option of sending free messages using Bluetooth Messaging, Wireless Music with A2DP and large frontal speakers that have 21 sound levels. Boasting of an array of data applications and games, it comes with a free 1GB card inbox.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Video chat away from home

Q. I have a 90-year-old aunt in Brooklyn whose 84-year-old brother lives in Portland, Ore. Although they talk on the phone, they are both unable to travel and haven’t seen each other for years. It occurred to me that they could talk over a Skype video chat and at least see each other. My uncle has an Internet-connected computer with access to a webcam, but even though she’s used them before, my aunt doesn’t own a computer. Is there an easy way to set her up, say at an Internet cafe?

A. Finding an Internet cafe or computer-rental place like FedEx Office (or any place that has webcams and the Skype program for Internet phone calls and video chat) is one option to explore. Even just finding a computer with a working webcam at one of these places is a start — most free instant-messenger programs (AIM, Yahoo, Windows Live Messenger, etc.) can now handle basic video chat and at least one of the programs is probably installed already. Gmail also offers video chat at

It’s also possible to have Skype video chats without a computer, although it may mean investing a few hundred dollars in equipment and finding a network connection to borrow or rent. The Asus Eee Videophone AiGuru SV1 has a 7-inch color screen and can make free Skype-to-Skype audio and video calls over a wired Ethernet or wireless network connection. The videophone costs around $260; more information and a demo video are at

If your aunt is interested in getting an inexpensive computer, a netbook with a built-in webcam is another option. It won’t win any prizes for fluid video, but a Windows-based netbook with a 10- or 12-inch screen is usually less than $400 and can run Skype and popular instant messaging programs. At less than three pounds, most netbooks are light enough to tote easily to Internet cafes or places that rent computer and network access by the hour.

Personal Tech invites questions about computer-based technology, by e-mail to This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually.

Source: NYT