Quick review of recent Skype Video Conference Call. Overall, I liked the service and found it useful. This is not a technical article and does not contain troubleshooting information. Skype version 22.214.171.124
Last week I had the opportunity to have a Facetime session (video conferencing) with a friend's Apple Mac and an iPad on the other side of the country. This was my first video conference. Both ends of the connection were high-speed DSL and we were online for better than two hours. It was impressive.
Since I don't own a Mac, I decided to try a PC-to-PC Skype session with a friend in the Southern part of the state. The results were good, but not spectacular. We thought the Apple session was better.
Minor Audio Problems
During our one hour call, the Skype audio would periodically lag and occasionally the audio or video would cut for a few seconds. Reasons for the failures were unknown. These were noticeable, but not catastrophic, and we were watching with a critical eye.
Other articles on the web show this to be a common problem in the United States, but reportedly less of an issue with overseas connections. Perhaps the reason was due to capacity limitations. Skype relies on central servers scattered around the world to help process the calls. There were 26-million other Skype users online at the same time, and it fluxuated up and down 2 million people as our call progressed, but this seems to be a normal load. We also suspected problems with all Internet connections to Southern Idaho and this may also help explain some of the problems.
We then launched a call with a third friend, running three simultaneous video sessions. The three-way Skype call is normally a chargeable event ($8 month), but we took advantage of a 7-day trial.
Results were poor until the newly-added person stopped their Macintosh Skype client and launched the program on a Windows PC. However, we continued to have minor problems with second person's connection, leading us to believe that DSL circuit was likely the culprit.
Audio Only Calls
Skype supports both Audio-only and Video-conferencing calls. Making an Audio-only call, either to another Skype user or to a regular phone, has been flawless and easy.
Skype-to-Skype is always free, regardless of the destination, but Skype-to-phone is 1.2 cents per minute (including international), or with other flat monthly rates, payable by credit-card or Pay-Pal. The subscription plans are well-stratified, with domestic and international plans, in daily, monthly, and yearly plans. You only need those plans if you want to call regular phone lines or multiple-line video conferencing.
As an alternative, you can dial regular phones for free using GMail's free calling service, which is part of the GMail account. However, several of my friends had troubles getting the Gmail plug-in installed (although I had no issues). Once installed, the Gmail client works, but I found the Skype client easier to install and it seems more reliable.
In the end, it comes down to this: Gmail phone-service is free, but not as reliable, while Skype is easy but can have some costs.
Install the Skype client at www.skype.com. Click "Get Skype" on the top menu bar. Once installed, run the diagnostic/testing routines to confirm the mic and video camera. It assumes the audio and video drivers are already installed. With my laptop, Skype saw the standard Dell drivers and there were no issues.
Ideally, all Skype clients should be at the same version and Skype notes sound-quality (cut-offs, echos, garbled, etc.) improves with each new version. In particular, echos (where a laptop's mic picks up the local speakers) are interestingly fixed on-the-fly by the servers. It also appears the Skype servers strip-out the laptop's hard-disk and fan background noises (a hum the laptop's internal mic always seems to pick up with other software).
The closer we sat to our laptops (the mic), the better the sound quality and we believe there was less audio-skipping. A boom-mic and headphones would probably solve a lot of audio-problems and make for a faster audio-session. Your recommendations are welcome.
Other background sounds, such as stereos, TV's, etc., need to be turned off. These caused some confusion with the software as it tried to figure out who was talking.
We had troubles with mixed Mac and PC clients. This was not explored very carefully.
For inbound calls, you can assign a normal phone number to your Skype account for a small monthly fee. Of course, this means the PC needs to be turned on. With this, regular phones can call
your number, as-if it were a standard phone. The number can be assigned
to any local city, regardless of your client's location. You could,
for example, setup an online phone number in Houston while you live in
Boston. This way, your family and co-workers in Houston can dial a
Although I did not try these features, you can send files,
screen-share, IM chat, call forwarding and Voice Mail with the Premium
Skype client ($8 monthly fee). See the website for details.
We found this was a neat way to talk with our friends and even with the minor audio problems, we found the session worthwhile and will do it again. I noticed the call was more comfortable and relaxed than holding a cell phone to my ear.
The only problem was we need to plan ahead of time so everyone's PC is online. If we would agree to leave our Skype clients running, it would be even neater. When someone calls, the PC rings like a telephone, Skype jumps to the front and you click "Answer." If only I had combed my hair and wasn't wearing my PJ's....
Download the client: Official Link
Skype Audio Problems: Official Documentation
Place a test call to this Skype number: echo123
Skype is now a Microsoft product.