4/5/06

Mixed Feelings about Video Chat

One of the things I cared about (somewhat) in the transision from PC to Mac was thjhe question of what I would have to give up. Put another way, what things work automatically and easily on a Windows machine that would not on a Mac (or Linux system). I didn't want to be spending time looking for drivers, changing settings, etc.

I've had a negative experience with video chat. For years I've used a web cam and microphone and speakers to "video chat" with friends and family around the world. In the PC world, I easily did this with a cheap USB webcam and MSN Messenger, AIM, and Yahoo Messenger. Some of the people I video chatted with have high-speed connections. Some have a terrible, 1950s phone infrastructure (Ukraine).

With the Mac I have found the following:
  • Only certain web cams will work. (The old "you don't have a driver" problem.) So, I cannot just slap in the cheapest USB cam I can find. I tried a Logitech Quickcam Zoom Digital video camera. It would not work. I added 2 "shareware" products to make it work and still no joy. I sent it back and went straight to Apple's very expensive (compared to USB cameras) iSight. I is very nice-looking. Also, it has an integrated microphone. I hated spending so much money. But, I hate wasting any more time.
  • iChat works with AIM, Jabber, and Apple's Bonjour, which is as far as I know useless to me. No Yahoo Messenger. No MSN Messenger. It's okay, I thought. I'll just run Yahoo Messenger for Mac. I didn't expect iChat to support all of them. (Adium does, as does it's cousin, Gaim and the Windows-only Trillian. But, none of them support audio and video.)
  • iChat to iChat it works fine, but my friend, Michael, needed to adjust some firewall settings. iChat to iChat used our AIM accounts. It works beautifully. Again, before on the PC with Yahoo Messenger video and audio, I needed to change nothing.
  • iChat at my end with Video AIM on an PC XP box works, as long as the firewall settings are correct. At least it does in my house, between different systems. I have been unsucessful trying with my daughter at college. Maybe their college firewall is stopping some of it in an attempt to stop file sharing sorts of things
  • Yahoo Messenger works fine to a PC. That is, until I try to use the iSight. When I "Start my webcam," it hangs with the Spinning Beach Ball of Death (SBBOD). When I restart Yahoo Messenger and try it again, it crashes. So, so far, I cannot use iSight with Yahoo Messenger.
There are a whole lot of people struggling with this. Some say it works fine (AIM and/or Yahoo). Some, like me, are having problems. Forums are filled with discussions. This is frustrating. Shouldn't be so hard, should it?

I am going to try one of the MSN Messenger work-alikes, Mercury Messenger (previously called dMSN). I'd do it now, but my daughter is out at a play of all things! :-)

Well, a few days later, and no joy! iChat to AIM won't work.

Sven wrote to me to say:
I read on your website that you've got problems connecting to a PC from your Mac with video and audio. I have to tell you that I have no problems using iChat, while my girlfriend is using AOL IM on her Dell laptop. Only bandwidth is sometimes a problem in the connection. But we've found that it's better to use Mercury for video and Skype for audio, at the same time! Though Skype is bandwidth demanding, it works great. The thing the whole world is waiting for is that Skype will bring audio AND video conversation with other users to the Mac. It can't be long! Hope my information has been of some help.


Well, I wish I could share Sven's optimism. I was going to ask for his girlfriend's AIM name, but thought he might misunderstand. Now, I am on a quest! I can talk to my daughter on my moble phone with no cost after 7PM and on weekends. That is not the point anymore. I want a general purpose solution. I want this to just work! (Okay... right. I've slipped into whining. But, I've not given up as it looks like Russell Beattie has. I tried a few other things.
  • Microsoft Messenger for Mac (5.0). For some reason (with all of the MSN Messenger clients —this one and clones—the other party seems this when I type a comment: msnobj Creator="fred@avolio.com" Size="15588" Type="3" Location="TFR2C2.tmp" Friendly="AAA=" SHA1D="mPgXOm6/bnZsLmxwJ56e8lLZRis= says:~ Also, it does not have audio/video as version 7.0 does on the PC.
  • Mercury Messenger had the same goofy name for me. I could not "video conference" with a PC user using MSN Messenger 7.0, but tried "send web cam." We each could see the other's webcams. But, no audio.
  • aMSN is another MSN Messenger clone. I saw her. She could not see me. The webcam set up on my side indicated I would not only have to massage my firewall even more, but I would have to forward ports from my outside firewall to inside. Nope, sorry. I should not have to do this. And I didn't for Yahoo on the PC to get all this to work.


And the beat goes on. La-dee-da-dee-dee. La-dee-da-dee-da.


UpdatedI finally got it partially working. I was able to video and audio chat with a PC running XP and AIM on my home network. Not very exciting, but a start.

It was a firewall problem at my end. I did not "just turn off the firewalls," as some places recommend. I have a firewall 1) on my Mac (that was not the problem), 2) on my aDSL modem (that may yet be a problem), and 3) on my router that connects my home network to the aDSL modem. (THAT was a problem!).

The router has a built-in "stateful inspection" firewall. There is no way to configure it; it is either on or off. I do not know what it is doing (it says, "The SPI (Stateful Inpection) Firewall protects your LAN against Denial of Service attacks. This should only be disabled in special circumstances."). But, it is inside my external firewall. So, I did disable it, trusting the other firewalls I already have.

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