Voice-over-Internet Protocol, better known as VoIP, has been around for a while. Now that more people are using high-speed DSL or cable modems, many companies are offering free VoIP access on the Internet with many calling and messaging options to choose from. VoIP converts the telephone's analog audio signals (your phone conversation) into digital signals that can be transmitted over the internet. This revolutionary technology has grown in popularity because it enables you to make free phone calls using your computer.
Since a VoIP phone call is computer-to-computer, it also requires you to have a sound card, speakers and a microphone on your computer. Most new computers include all these features in their standard package, so you may not need to buy any additional hardware. You will also need a fast Internet connection, preferably DSL or cable. A dialup connection is not well suited to providing high-quality VoIP — the sound quality isn't as good as DSL or cable and video isn't even worth trying.
For free computer-to-computer calling, both parties need to use the same brand of VoIP software. Many VoIP companies offer their software for free. Search the Internet for “video phone calls” or ask those you know who are using VoIP which software they're using. If you use instant messaging software, check if they have a video chat capability you can enable.
My cousin and I use Skype, a popular free service whose software can be downloaded and setup in just a few minutes. After creating a buddy on your buddy list you can make your first call. You can also use the Internet to search for inexpensive webcams. My daughter prefers the microphone that came with her computer but I like to wear a headset/microphone combination. Both my webcam and microphone plug into USB ports.
Making a video call is simple, just like in instant messaging. The Skype menu allows me to see when my daughter is on-line. I click on her name and the software “rings” her computer. When we are both connected, the software will trigger our webcams to start. The video starts in a small window, but I have the option to expand it to full screen. My face remains visible in a small window so I know where my camera is pointing as we chat.
For Apple users, Apple's iChat AV is very popular, but to be successful with video calls on a Mac you need to be running the latest OS X. iChat AV offers additional features such as having a video call with up to three people.
Video chatting is growing in popularity, and it's certainly a pleasant way to visit and chat with friends and family who live some distance away. As with my cousin and me, it helps to reinforce our friendship although many miles and states separate us.
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