Webcam Options For The Painfully Separated
April 17, 2008 10:50 PM   Subscribe

Mac/PC webcam options (hardware and software)?

My girlfriend is going to be in Sweden for 6 months this summer/fall and we're looking for ways to stay in touch. I have an iBook G4 (OS X Tiger and she has a 3 year-old Dell Dimension laptop (XP).

What are our best options for webcams for our computers? It seems like a used iSight would be the best option for my iBook, but I don't know how easy they are to find these days. As for software, what is the easiest software to let our computers talk? Ideal would be something that we could also use for IM and voice chat (if we don't want to fire up the webcams).
posted by rossination to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
For the software: Skype is free for voice/ videochat between computers. I have had reliability issues, but they're uncommon. On the whole I'm reasonably happy with their service.
posted by WalterMitty at 11:32 PM on April 17, 2008

(It works as an IM program as well.)
posted by WalterMitty at 11:33 PM on April 17, 2008

HW: Almost any FW or USB webcam will work with your iBook, and almost any USB webcam with your GF's laptop. The only things to avoid are very low-end USB webcams with PC-only drivers (these rely on Windows libraries to work rather than including their own signal processing chips). So for a USB webcam, do check for OSX compatibility on the box/website. For FireWire, any will work with your iBook.

SW: Skype is fine, though a bit geekfesty in its complicated UI... simpler might be either AOL Instant Messenger or Yahoo Chat (both free), since they both support webcams now too.
posted by rokusan at 1:05 AM on April 18, 2008

if you're going to be as painfully separated as you think you're going to be, also make sure you invest in higher-pixel webcams for both ends. there's nothing worse than looking forward to seeing your honey online only to be greeted by a murky, pixelated low-res image of your lover. skype now supports high-quality video, so if you meet the hardware reqs for it i recommend their service. i've used both aol and yahoo but prefer skype because it's mostly ad-free. yahoo video was wayyyyy laggy and had a bunch of ads pop up the last and only time i used it.
posted by tastycracker at 5:41 AM on April 18, 2008

Skype is pretty great (the osx interfacse isn't "that" geeky, xp more so), and a good alternative to the isight is the unibrain firei firewire camera. Same price as the isights were, same image quality, less slick industrial design. I doubt that would be a solution for an old dell (i assume no firewire port) so perhaps a logitech usb camera?
posted by tip120 at 5:43 AM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthing Skype as, very probably, the easiest option. I've been using it for over one year to call my (chronically clingy) parents back in Spain and it has served us well throughout. It is cross-platform, widely-supported, free and overall a pretty nice piece of software. And I don't really find the user interface that geeky, honestly. If my parents can figure it out, I don't see why any computer-literate person wouldn't.

On the hardware front, I've used a bunch of webcams and I honestly believe the quality difference between the cheaper and the more expensive models tends to be minimal. Pretty much regardless of the webcam you use, the videoconferencing software and the available bandwidth are going to be the limiting factors resolution-wise, so don't get dragged into the megapixel race when shopping for a webcam.

Skype recently started offering high-resolution videoconferencing with a few selected Logitech webcams, but you need a pretty recent computer to enable it (dual core required, according to the Skype), so it won't work for you until you upgrade your equipment. Unless you are planning to do so in the future, I wouldn't bother with it for now.

One thing that nobody seems to have mentioned so far is a microphone. Most middle-to-high priced webcams these days have an onboard microphone, but they are almost invariably rubbish. Grab some of the money you'll save by not buying the latest hyped webcam model and put it towards a decent set of headphones with built-in microphone: they will hugely improve the audio quality and ensure you don't suffer the supremely annoying "echo" effect, whereby the microphone picks up the sound coming from of the speakers and you hear what you were just saying being re-broadcast back to you. There are loads of headphone models out there, so just pick up a pair that looks comfy and solidly built.

On a final note, a word of warning: if your Internet connection is flaky for some reason (low wireless signal, for example), call quality will be degraded immensely. If you experience connection problems, try physically connecting your computer to the router or Internet box via an Ethernet cable.
posted by doctorpiorno at 7:00 AM on April 18, 2008

nthing skype too. thats how my long-dist boyfriend and i kept in touch, before I got a mac too and we started using ichat.

the YM and AIM clients for mac os might not support video chat.
posted by Xianny at 7:20 AM on April 18, 2008

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