Video Phones: Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

David Rocks

A couple of years ago, I wrote in BW about the long reporting trips I sometimes take to Asia. On some levels, they’re a blast: I get to meet interesting folks, eat well, see new places. But I also find myself missing my family.

At the time, I packed a little Web cam and used it for video conferences with my wife and daughters. It worked pretty well, but the video quality was fairly iffy. At the time, I was using Yahoo Video Messenger, which is part of the online giant’s IM application.

On a trip a week ago, I tried a different service, this time from Logitech (the mouse-, keyboard-, and, of course, Webcam-maker). The service, called Logitech VideoCall, is a paid service ($5 per month), but you can sign up for a free 30-day trial, which I did.

It’s pretty simple to set up: Before I went, I just created an account for home and a second account for my laptop. The whole process took about 10 minutes. I was able to test it by establishing a link from one room to another in my house.

Once in Seoul, I fired up my laptop, rang my wife at a time when I suspected she’d be around the computer (VideoCall has a pleasing brrrrrr-ring that sounds just like the 50-year-old dial phone that my grandmother had). My wife answered, and her image flickered on in a two-inch by three-inch window. We could talk, though there’s a bit of a lag. And the images are fairly grainy, and the video is far from full-motion.

When it works, the service is better than a phone call. But I’ve had trouble with both VideoCall and other services in certain hotels, and virtually always when I’m on my corporate network. And truth be told, I have yet to find a service that really delivers on the ultimate promise of videophoning. I’d love to hear from readers about their experiences, and find any other services that offer higher quality.

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