Skype hacks?
February 22, 2012 8:49 PM   Subscribe

How can I have the best video chat experience?

The SO and I try to pretend like we're not long distance by having date night via Skype. Ideally we'd like to play some online games together, stream Netflix, etc, but it would be nice just to chat without the call dropping. We've tried Skype (best results), Gchat, Oovoo, and even Google+ hangouts, but it's become really frustrating to deal with frequent lag and dropped calls. We are both PC users in the United States, both with limited control over our ISP, and both with roommates. My questions are as follows:

1) How can we troubleshoot our internet connection? I might be able to switch/upgrade providers, but to do that I'd like to have a sense of what's missing. Connection too slow? Not enough bandwidth? How can I tell?

2) Is there anything we can do to optimize in terms of hardware? Router configuration? Should we invest in a wireless repeater, and if so, which?

3) What about software? Is there anything we should be doing to configure it properly (e.g. program settings, allowing it through a firewall, altering webcam quality, etc)?

4) We use a VPN to set up our own server for some online games. Could that or something similar possibly help with Skype?

5) Any other diagnostics to determine what's wrong, or hacks to optimize performance?

Bonus: online games suggestions always welcome! We like Quadradius a lot.
posted by segfault to Technology (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Before anything 1-5, try

and start a private room there. It's free and easy and completely browser based.
posted by caclwmr4 at 8:54 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

If one or both of you can plug directly into the router (instead of connecting wirelessly) that will dramatically increase your download and upload speed.
posted by amaire at 9:04 PM on February 22, 2012

If one or both of you can plug directly into the router (instead of connecting wirelessly) that will dramatically increase your download and upload speed.

Unlikely. Even pretty crappy wireless will give you better data rates than you get with even pretty decent internet. For example, my wireless can deliver up to about 50 Mb/s but my internet only 6 Mb/s. No matter how fast the connection between me and my DSL modem is, the DSL model is going to limit the speed to my ISP.
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:14 PM on February 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Call your ISP and find out if they've updated their speed plans since you signed up. Many ISPs will new, higher speeds on their basic tier but leave existing customers on the old, slow plan they originally signed up for unless they say something. If you do find that you're already on the fastest basic tier and want to upgrade, pay attention primarily to the upload speed; that's going to be the limiting factor on each end.
posted by contraption at 10:57 PM on February 22, 2012

Many isps will offer new, higher speeds
posted by contraption at 10:59 PM on February 22, 2012

@RustyBrooks - That is true, but wireless modems can suffer interference from microwaves and cordless phones and whatnot resulting in intermittent drops and poor performance. That may or not be the case here, but it's not a bad idea to use a wired connection where feasible just to rule it out as a possibility.
posted by j03 at 11:09 PM on February 22, 2012

RustyBrooks: "Even pretty crappy wireless will give you better data rates than you get with even pretty decent internet"

Technically yes, but don't lose sight of the goal (good call quality) for the numbers. If there are one or more WiFi networks nearby interfering with yours, not only will your real speed be much slower than wired, but you will also be dropping packets all over the place, which can also wreck a Skype connection. I support the suggestion to try a wired call. Also eliminate as many of the other external factors as possible - eg, make sure roommates are not running torrents at the time (which can really bring your router to a stutter).

If you feel like messing with routers, you could get rid of Skype's uPnP and set fixed port forwarding. In your Skype Options > Advanced > Connection you can see the port you should be forwarding, and also turn off uPnP.

VPNs are primarily used to "hide/unblock" Skype on ISPs which block it for whatever nefarious reasons, but unless your ISP is doing some dodgy throttling, I would be surprised if it improves call quality.

Watching Netflix and video chatting might be a strain - you might want to drop to audio for this.

All in all, good luck - there's few things more frustrating than debugging Internet connections instead of spending quality time with significant others.
posted by ivancho at 11:45 PM on February 22, 2012 [2 favorites] will tell you what your upload and download rates are, as well as latency. Ideally it's under ~100ms ping and over 1.5Mbps up and down, though that's still slow by modern standards and any time it dips below that you'll get unhappiness. Those bandwidth requirements assume nothing else is flowing through those pipes, obviously.

Also worth noting that you could try telling your router to use Google's DNS servers (IP addresses and though it probably won't help this particular problem.
posted by pjaust at 9:44 AM on February 23, 2012

I regularly Skype and Google Talk with friends/family in faraway lands. Nothing works perfectly and sometimes things work/don't work for inexplicable reasons. Still, I have found that wired-to-the-router is usually dramatically better than wireless. I've also found (and YMMV) that Google Talk got me more consistent connection, but had really bad feedback dampening. Using earbuds over Google Talk has given me the best unbroken conversations.

One other thing you could try--I haven't, but I would if I were able to tinker with my technophobic family's gear--is checking out the QoS settings on your router to prioritize VOIP traffic. If you gave us the model for your router someone here might be able to give you specific instructions.
posted by yoink at 3:23 PM on February 23, 2012

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