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Video Chat -- Who Has the Best Quality Picture? 79

Milo_Mindbender asks: "There are lot of PC based video chat programs out there now, but every one I've tried lately seems to have pretty low-quality video even when both participants have cable-modem and high quality USB2 or Firewire cameras. The recent 'Windows Live' update was advertising better quality video, but it doesn't look any better to me. Now, I'm asking the Slashdot crowd: of the programs you've tried which ones have the best quality video? I'm mainly interested in low-cost or free Windows PC solutions, but for the benefit of all the readers maybe we could come up with 'best Windows', 'best Mac' and 'best Linux' recommendations?"
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Video Chat -- Who Has the Best Quality Picture?

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  • by zygote ( 134175 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:42PM (#15938409)
    I think the iSight (non built-in) generates a pretty good image. It has a rudimentary auto-focus and handles less than optimal lighting.

    The amount of compression applied -- which I imagine is a product of the bandwidth available -- is probably a bit factor in image quality as is image size.

    The camera built into the MacBook, iMac and Mac Book Pro also performs pretty well.

    All in all, like everything else, there are alot of variable that will affect your mileage.
    • I agree with you on this, with the exception that iSight/iChat needs to allow access to adjusting the camera's settings (white balance, brightness, contrast, etc) like other cameras allow.
    • by ssuchter ( 451997 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:17PM (#15938501)
      I definitely agree, iSight w/iChat is the best. A few months ago for Mother's Day, I set up videoconferencing for my daughter's two grandmothers, we're spread out across the USA. I tried MSN Messenger, Skype Video and iChat. iSight+iChat was *so* superior to the others in terms of picture quality and video quality (slightly different considerations) that I ended up upgrading my Powerbook to a MacBook Pro, giving the hand-me-down to my parents, and setting up my in-laws with an iSight for their Mac Mini computer they were planning on getting rid of. The quality is simply in another class from the other solutions, in my experience.
    • by Graymalkin ( 13732 ) * on Friday August 18, 2006 @10:34PM (#15938730)
      iChat with a DV camera also tends to work really well. A big advantage of a DV camera is a big lens and manual controls. Instead of having to trust the iSight's auto white balance and brightness (or use iGlasses [ecamm.com]) you can manually set what you need to get a good shot. A DV cam with an IR remote also works well when doing presentations or group chats where you might want the camera to zoom in on the frame sometimes but zoom out to emcompass everyone.
    • Have just a newbie question : Is this so called iSight program available on windows as well or is it only macOs program ?
      (had to ask this, as the question is about what program and not what webcam produces the best image .. )
      • iSight is the camera, iChat is the name of the application, which is macosx only.
      • "so-called"?

        Actually the iSight [apple.com] is an Apple-branded webcam that can record at 30 fps.

        The program itself is "iChat" (also designed by apple) so you can imagine whether or not it's available for windows. iChat does make use of the AIM protocol so you can download the AIM client for windows and get a free screen name and video chat with mac users utilizing their iSights (most macs have them built-in now).

        As far as using an iSight in windows, apparently it is possible - at least on a mac running window
        • Exactly ...
          I know that iSight is camera, but the original question was about SW and not HW, so i had to ask, who makes this wonderfull piece of software called iSight .. (parent did not mention iChat even once ..)
          • Wait, you are just being facetious? Careful, my good man, people don't always pick up on subtle sarcasm here. Goal number one here on Slashdot is to prove someone wrong and make sure everyone knows it.

            Yes, iChat is an incredible video chat client, the best in my opinion [apple.com].
    • by torpor ( 458 )
      yeah, i second that .. i think the iSight was a smart move and some nice componentry ..

      of course another nice smart move would be if i could plug my lumix fz5 in and just stream from that, but hey ..
  • by MoogMan ( 442253 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:59PM (#15938460)
    Silly question, but have you ever considered that it may be the camera that has a poor resolution or refresh rate?

    As for video chat, I generally use Ekiga. It's a little buggy, but it works better (and is simpler) than many other SIP clients around.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Myself ( 57572 )
      Agreed, it's probably the camera. The compressed image will never look as good as the original, so if the original is just barely acceptable, the compression has a hard time telling important details from discardable details, and the result will be unacceptable.

      Most cheap camera sensors are horribly hungry for light. Fix the lighting situation first, and see if the problem goes away. Then, look at a better camera. If you can post a 640x480 snap from the camera on the web, and have people click on it attempt
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Any camera won't do too well in if the conditions you're shooting in aren't good. Good lighting, no backlighting, and a full view of your face (for focus) will have a larger positive impact than whatever program you're using. More tech doesn't always work as well as good composure.

    Cheers,
  • by BobKagy ( 25820 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:17PM (#15938502)

    In my my previous comments [slashdot.org] I mentioned trying a number of services after getting my family webcams.

    We now use MSN 7.5 (pre Live) quite successfully. It can switch to full screen, which helps considerably when there are people gathered round the PC to chat as a group. Occasionally have trouble with something locking up, but restarting the video conference usually fixes it.

    I tried a number of services with my brother in another state before deciding on MSN. Skype had just released a beta of their video service, and the video quality wasn't quite as good. Yahoo didn't have a good update rate. I didn't try AOL which seemed to want to install much more than a chat client. There were a number of clients like ineen [ineen.com], so similar that I swear its the same software with different skins for different markets. All had tiny video.

    After trying all of these I realized how important it is to keep the audio in sync with the video being displayed, and to degrade in a manner that is easy on the eyes. MSN outshone the others in this regard. (Talking on the phone as we start the conferences, you can really notice the delay imposed to keep the sync. But after we're just talking on the PC, its much more important to keep the audio in sync than to reduce the latency.)

    • by Strolls ( 641018 )

      We now use MSN 7.5 (pre Live) quite successfully...

      Mind if I ask why you use 7.5 & not Live?

      Last time I checked - admittedly some months ago - MSN 7.5 was a beta, so when I saw the availability of Live I snagged it. I have to admit that I don't really use videochat much myself, and that my choice of videochat software would be iChatAV, but since the iSight on my laptop now has Windows drivers it would be nice to have the "best" version of MSN installed.

      Hmmmn... it would also be nice to have MSN w

      • Hmmmn... it would also be nice to have MSN without the shitty ads at the bottom of the buddylist, but I guess that's reachin'.

        Check out the "Mess Patch" from www.mess.be [www.mess.be]. That and MSN Plus (er, now Messenger Plus! Live ... google it) are the best things to happen to MSN Messenger. The mess patch will remove the ads, and MSN plus will add a whole bunch of thoroughly useful features (custom away statuses, auto-responses, etc)

        A>

    • "Talking on the phone as we start the conferences"

      This quote really nails the sorry state we are in wrt voice/video conferencing.
  • ...Just how good does your video chat quality really need to be?

    Time to scope your requirements. If you're just chatting up your buds, do you really need much more than a small, choppy image? If you were doing remote brain surgery or something extremely critical where a great deal of visual information was necessary, that's another matter.

    I'm not being argumentative - just asking the question.

    • by DavidinAla ( 639952 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:48PM (#15938588)
      By that reasoning, we all ought to stick to old CGA monitors. Who cares about higher resolution or more colors? Who really NEEDS stuff like that? The old standards were good enough to tell roughly what something was. Right?

      People want things that look better and clearer. Few people NEED high-resolution monitors or digital cameras or even printers. (Isn't 300dpi good enough for anyone? Or even dot matrix, for that matter?) No, we enjoy being able to hear things more clearly and see pictures more clearly. If you're stuck with the "small, choppy image" that you suggest, why bother with the video at all?

      David
      • I agree. What *I* want is a super-duper (mic, Bluetooth and speaker-equipped) webcam that I can leave in the meeting room when I just know that someone's about to make a stupid point.

        That way, I can pretend to excuse myself for something Really Important and go to the bathroom and then flush at exactly the right time.
    • If you are dealing with small, choppy, and blurry you might as well not have video at all. Most of the typical minor facial expressions,etc. just don't transfer.
    • by Baddas ( 243852 )
      Well, the answer is, good enough to see her... face? yeah... face... that's what we're looking at... /me looks around nervously

      The internet is for porn! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iAWst1zXkM [youtube.com]
  • by Sigma 7 ( 266129 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:18PM (#15938504)
    "There are lot of PC based video chat programs out there now, but every one I've tried lately seems to have pretty low-quality video even when both participants have cable-modem and high quality USB2 or Firewire cameras.


    Cable modem? That's why.

    Let's assume that you are have a 300kbps upload rate (which is on the low side for cable, but will do.) You are also dealing with a video compression codec that needs to be real-time (i.e. low-compression). In some cases, you have more than one person in the video chat, either requiring a multicast or multiple connections.

    In addition, you are not wanting to fill that entire 300kbps - that would choke the connection and cause issues if you happen to be on a slow period (or otherwise slow down the connection for other things.) Effectivly, you have a 128kbps bitrate, possibly 64kbps.

    While that bitrate can provide acceptable movie quality, it flings you into "low-quality" world. Unless this is the exact bitrate you are looking for (i.e. this is "high-quality" video conferencing), you'll have to deal with the image quality that you've got. Alternativly, get a fibre-optic conneftion so that you can have an ultra-high bitrate.

    • by jesup ( 8690 ) *
      Designing a videophone/video-chat application isn't hard. Doing it well is HARD. I know. ;-)

      It's quite possible that typical PC-based "video chat" solutions don't do well near the upload speed limit. There are lots of issues (loss) if you get near the congestion point - usually on the upstream, but it can happen elsewhere. The simple solution is to simply never go near it, but that really hurts video quality. Also, frame rate is important, as is delay. And lots of cheapo USB 1.1 webcams can't do 30FPS
      • I remember having real speed issues on cable modems as I approached the upload speed limit. I believe this [ntlworld.com] may be why.

        Although it may not affect UDP; I dunno.

        • by jesup ( 8690 ) *
          No effect (directly) on UDP (no ACKs); UDP could be hit by congestion caused by lots of TCP traffic (of course).
    • by Xyde ( 415798 )
      A 300kbps upload rate is plenty for a decent video stream. My friend on 1500/256 DSL using iChat/iSight produces an amazing image, that looks great, and with a decent framerate (at least 15fps I'd have to say) to boot. It's all about the codec you use, most programs in the league of MSN etc are still using h261 or h263 grade compression.
  • Wigiwigi (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Verteiron ( 224042 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:30PM (#15938532) Homepage
    If you can forward a port or are directly connected, try Wigiwigi. The program is flakey and very much "under development", but there is no chat app with better video quality out there, period.

    http://www.wigiwigi.com/ [wigiwigi.com]

    The specific app you want is WigiHQ.
  • My solution (Score:5, Funny)

    by AndrewStephens ( 815287 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:31PM (#15938535) Homepage
    Many people of commented that I, in fact, have the best picture from video chat software. I put it down to just being very good looking. Have you tried getting a better hair cut?
    • by rts008 ( 812749 )
      I have not had a haircut in 15 years (*nix user by damn!), you insensitive clod!

      I get a lot of compliments on my ponytail, BTW, even if it is grey!
  • MSN all the way (Score:3, Informative)

    by Donniedarkness ( 895066 ) <Donniedarkness@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:48PM (#15938587) Homepage
    I'm a soon-to-be college student (very soon-- next week), and I wanted to buy some good webcams for my girlfriend and I to be able to see each other with.

    I looked around at some programs to determine which would be the best (I did, after all, just spend $130 on the cameras). I really wanted to like Skype, but the video didn't seem to go very smoothly and the quality wasn't so great. Also, it didn't show the full range of my camera (it cut off the edges on the sides), which produced a "zoomed in" picture. Yahoo Messenger just sucked, period, and I refused to use AOL because it wants to install other crap with it. I've also never liked the look of it. I was cursing Google for not including a video-chat function with Gtalk (which is by FAR my favorite messenger. Nice, sleek, and not annoying).

    As much as it pains me to say this, I chose Microsoft's chat solution. Windows Live Messenger has the best, smoothest, highest-quality picture of any of the programs I tried. The audio also synced up nicely with it. I say MSN all the way.

    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by Txiasaeia ( 581598 )
      Y'know what would have been an even cheaper solution?

      A new girlfriend.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        Not really, as she tried to pay for them (and everything else...food, movies, anything else I buy).

        Can I get a -1, Flamebait on the parent?

        • Heh, looks like you took me the wrong way. Anyway, I've never found a video solution that actually works for me: with a 1500/320 connection on fast (A64 3200+, 1GB ram, ATI X800 PRO) computers, I've never been able to get a usable connection between Regina and Vancouver. The problem is that it's not a direct connection, but gets routed through the US. The point is that, no matter what programs you're using and how fast your computer/pipe is, topography can play a factor in usability as well. Have you tr
      • This is slashdot. Finding even 1 girlfriend is statistically unlikely. You can always buy technology, but finding a girlfriend.... priceless :)
    • by Khyber ( 864651 )
      Camfrog. Enough said. Go drop MSN and it's inherently insecure software that uses ActiveX and go with something standalone that's not tied into your OS.
    • I'm a soon-to-be college student (very soon-- next week), and I wanted to buy some good webcams for my girlfriend and I to be able to see each other with.

      As much as it pains me to say this, you probably should've saved your money instead of buying a webcam for your soon-to-be ex.
  • Get CAMFROG (Score:5, Informative)

    by Khyber ( 864651 ) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:53PM (#15938606) Homepage Journal
    It comes in Windows and OSX flavors (With *MAYBE* linux support coming soon.) I've used this EXCLUSIVELY for the past few years, and in many of my other comments and journal entries you'll see mention of this program. This program is good enough that you could (with enough bandwidth and proc power and RAM) watch 100 people at once doing sign language as fluidly as real life. It's that good. Only downside, you need to pay 50 bucks to be able to do most of the kick-ass stuff in Camfrog, but it's probably one of the only programs I've paid for. The server software is $200 dollars, and you can restrict access so tightly without the need for MAC banning (thru a ban/allow list you can edit in text editor of choice, so you can first block out the net, then only allow people in by nickname.)

    You will be pretty floored by how well it performs for such a small program. Also, the current OSX version is BETA, so most internal cams on newer notebooks will not work at all. It's smaller than most good V/V chat programs out there (3.6 or so megs for windows, 5.6 for OSX I beleive.) Try it. It's compatible cross-platform. Mac and Windows users can chat with each other, and when you have broadband, it's sweet. I give guitar lessons live thru this program, to a nice 100 people at once with a decent server. Let's see iChat do that with 100 people at once.

    http://www.camfrog.com/ [camfrog.com] click the download link.

    http://download.camfrog.com/macosx [camfrog.com] for the Mac users.

    Enjoy. There's rooms for everyone/type out here. Just watch out from idiots from Turkey, Egypt, and most of the Middle East. they're all pervs and will ask anyone for sex, or will pop into a room and randomly start whacking off. Thankfully *MOST* user-owned rooms have moderators (sadly a pay-for only feature, email the guys over at Camfrog and let them know what features you'd like in this program before you pay $50 for soem decent damned software!)

    Don't mod me down for advertising/shilling for these people. I'm not paid by them. I'm a very impressed customer. And anyone else talking about ANY other program is advertising as well as I am. Be hypocritical if you dare.
    • Re:Get CAMFROG (Score:5, Informative)

      by Perseid ( 660451 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @10:07PM (#15938637)
      Camfrog is okay. The image quality and frame rate are actually quite good. But it's more for group chats than one-on-one sessions like most chat services are. If that's what you want, look at camfrog. If you want to webcam chat with your brother in law in Florida every so often, Camfrog is probably not the answer.

      Also, the signal to noise ratio in the larger chat rooms is terrible. As the parent said, dozens if not hundreds of people from what appear to be various muslim countries flood the English-only rooms with foreign languages and broken english asking every female cam they see to "open tits" and whatnot. IMO this makes the larger chat servers unusable.

      And lastly the free version is quite crippled. So Camfrog is an option, but be sure to try it out for free before you give them any money.
      • by Khyber ( 864651 )
        Camfrog does one-on-one conversations. It's certain;y not that hard, and with the nice feature of keeping friends and favorite rooms on your buddy list, you can choose whether or not you want to go into a chat room or just privately chat with someone else. Other people on Yahoo can bug you to try to view your cam; once you're in a one-on-one conversation with another person in Camfrog, any and all video chat requests are automaticaly refused for you by the server.

        I'm still wishing they allowed connecting
    • So 100 people at once see a live video feed of you. Do you see a live video feed for all 100 of them, at once? If so, would you mind posting a screenshot somewhere, because *that* would be damn amazing ...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Usually when I broadcast my webcam (a Logitech Pro 4000), I simply use VLC's streaming output. A 320x240 video at 30fps looks pretty good at 192kbps when I use the h264 codec. Of course, h264 gives the best quality/bit compared to the other available codecs, but it's a bit CPU-intensive, so sometimes I use a less efficient codec at a higher bitrate. This type of stream is only one way, but that's never been much of a problem for me, since each person can run their own stream. Plus, as a bonus, it works
  • When I must show off my hairy manbreasts to all the hot ladies on the internet, I choose Windows Media Encoder.

    Multi-bitrate streams are very useful, since then you can pump out three or four different rates, depending on who all is watching, and what your upstream is.

    Also, realize that no video is going to look terribly great on a cable modem, as some have uploads as low as 128kbit. Even 'moderate' at 512mbit isn't going to be that great once you split it two ways.
    • Also, realize that no video is going to look terribly great on a cable modem, as some have uploads as low as 128kbit. Even 'moderate' at 512mbit isn't going to be that great once you split it two ways.

      That's why you don't have people pull directly from your encoder, you push your stream to a more reliable server, and let the server handle splitting the stream for many people. You may get a minute or so of delay, but that's about good enough to show off yourself. Personally I use Camfrog - more live TNA, in large group rooms, and you can always drag someone into private one-on-one chat if you're really good at charming ladies (or guys, whatever you prefer.)
  • Sightspeed (Score:2, Interesting)

    by yasny_jp ( 948381 )
    I've been using Sightspeed [sightspeed.com] for quite a while now to talk with my girlfriend in Japan (I'm in the US) and I think the video quality is excellent. I haven't mesaured, but I'm pretty sure I get at least 20fps, and even if I make it full screen (on a 24'' widescreen LCD), the quality is still impressive. I'm using an iSight connected to an Intel MacMini, and my girlfriend has some generic Logitec webcam connected to her Windows laptop.
    • There's been a couple people saying Sightspeed was the best. Is it really that good? I'm currently stationed in Korea, so a good video chat program is a must. I have a MacBook/iMac with built in iSight and she has a Windows machine with either a logitch or Creative cam, and right now we use Skype, but the quality is a bit lacking. Tonight I might try to get her to try Sightspeed.
      • SightSpeed recently came out with Verison 5.0 and that significantly improved its video quality and it is native to both Macs and PCs. I use it to talk with my brother in Denmark (I'm in California) and it works great (and it's free!).
  • by dannyastro ( 790359 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:19AM (#15939352)
    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1979143,00.as p [pcmag.com] From the review: "Bottom Line: Hands-down the best free Internet video calls offered by any Web service. You'll be amazed at the video quality and tight synchronization of audio and video when using a broadband connection and 30-frames-per-second webcam. Pros: Phenomenal video quality. Unlimited free video calls, video e-mails (up to 1 minute with 30-day storage), text messaging, and voice calls to other SightSpeed users. Windows and Mac support. Low-cost calls to traditional landline phones. Voice-only calling mode. Cons: The expected beta hiccup in the interface here and there."
  • Ichat uses the H264 codec, which is the same one used in the HD-res (1920x1080) quicktime movie previews at apple's websites. I believe it is the codec in either Blueray or HDdvd also. In anycase it looks great. The stand-alone isight camera is very good. The built-in camera is pretty good. In the past I've tried iVisit, yahoo, aol, and a couple other ugly buggy things. I have not tried the "camfrog".
  • Take a look at Sightspeed [sightspeed.com].

    From their website: "SightSpeed, Inc. is the leading provider of free and premium Internet video and voice communications services (VVoIP and VoIP). The SightSpeed community and software enable consumers and small businesses to make the best quality video and voice calls and to send video mail over the Internet. SightSpeed's award winning service turns a PC or Mac into an easy-to-use video phone to communicate with friends, family and colleagues around the world."
  • ... is what I've been using for a while now when I want decent video and sound. I primarily use MSN Live for chat, but find that the video features have a tendency to lag alot, and get blurry so you tend to miss facial expressions. AIM is a good deal faster, but tends to be flakey.
    Eyeball Chat runs quickly and there seems to be hardly any noticible lack of sync between audio and video.
    • by Khyber ( 864651 )
      Eyeball fell away long ago when the creators of that program moved on to produce Camfrog - I suggest you give Camfrog a shot (I use it for live guitar lessons to multiple people at once That's how good it is.)
  • Paltalk operates a video chat service and the quality is very good. They started doing it for dial up and had to be very efficient. What is great about the service is that you can do multi-way (6 max I think) video chat and it still looks good.

    www.paltalk.com
  • I used a Canon GL-2 camera for videoconferencing for a while. It's currently living a different life doing more mundane things but I did notice a few things.

    Close-miking is important so that there is no question of what you are saying and what you are saying doesn't get drowned out by the ambient sound in your room.

    But the consistently best picture I got was by using high-intensity lamps (desk and other variety) that have bulbs that produce 3200K white light (it's actually yellow but cameras, when set for

  • I like this service [cloudmeeting.com]
  • by guardia ( 579095 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @10:20PM (#15942777) Homepage
    Check this out if you want high-bandwidth, hi-fi, hi-res video conferencing:
    http://ultravideo.mcgill.ca/ [mcgill.ca]
    The software runs on Linux and can be downloaded by anyone interested.
  • Polycom.
  • I recently found VZOchat http://www.vzochat.com/ [vzochat.com] it is free and very simple and I think it gives the best video quality so far. I like it more than Yahoo, MSN, ISpQ and others that I tried before. I use it when I travel to see my family, however I am not sure I would use VZOchat for business. The same company has another service called ZoomCall http://www.zoomcall.com/ [zoomcall.com] that they advertise for business use. ZoomCall is also free to try, but then you have to pay soemthing to use it. I tried them both side by

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