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

1 comment:

  1. video calling in a updated form with great feature.thanks for sharing.
    seo company india