Monday, December 05, 2005

Videophone Calling looks better

The Skype 2.0 software offers the ability to see as well as hear computer-to-computer callers — provided that both parties have webcams.

With the Skype 2.0 update, the picture is far clearer, larger and more stable. So much so that this may be the long-awaited application that brings video telephony to the masses, especially now that webcams can be bought for as little as $30.

Version 2.0 — which so far is available only for Windows PCs — retains the Skype desktop contact list that can be used to store information on people with whom you regularly Skype (like Google, the name has reached the status of a verb). If someone on your call list has the updated software and a webcam plugged in, a little video camera icon shows up beside his or her name. You double-click the name and, if your call is accepted, you'll see in a few seconds live video of the person you called, and that person will see you.

The audio quality, always good on Skype, remains excellent — sometimes better than even on a land-line phone.

For some reason, adding video brings a bit more humanity into a conversation, even if it's basically a business call. For one thing, you have to be on better behavior; it's probably harder to make a cutting remark if you are face to face.

Nevertheless, the image is hardly perfect, even when both parties are using fast Internet connections. There is a general haziness to the images, and the picture quality washes if the chatter is in low light. Movement causes some pixelation.

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