Beginners Guide to Video Chatting (Skype)
When it was first invented, video conferencing was cumbersome and difficult to use. Since then, many companies have produced easy-to-use web cameras and quality software. Combined with the influx of high speed internet access, it is now easier than ever to video chat or video conference with friends, family, or co-workers. If you have been putting off buying a webcam because you're afraid of not being able to use it, this guide will teach you everything you need to know about video chatting. If you still don't understand something, leave a comment and I will be sure to help you out with any issues you're having.
Check out some of my other how-to guides:
- How to save $600 a year by using only Facebook and Google
- How to stop paying for TV and watch everything online
- How to use a better browser than Internet Explorer
- How to make your own, completely free, ringtone
- How to really secure Facebook
Background of Video Chatting
Video chatting is the act of using a webcam (sort of like a small video camera that sits on top of your computer) to broadcast your image and voice over the internet. Then, the person whom you are talking with can see and hear you as you can see and hear them. It is like a telephone call, just with video, which makes it much more interactive and personal. Video chatting is a way to keep in touch by seeing family members of friends who live far away. It's a great tool for grandparents to keep in touch with their small grandchildren and watch them grow, but sadly, not enough grandparents know how to set this up. So if you're reading this and want to see your grandkids, urge their parents to get a webcam. Hopefully when you're done reading, you'll be able to show them how to set it up as well.
Preparing to Video Chat
In order to video chat, you and the person you are chatting with will need three things: a computer, a webcam, and video chat software. In this guide I am going to be focusing on Skype, which is a video chat software that is free and has the most users. It is incredibly simple to use and works with almost all webcams available today. As for a computer, any computer will work. Skype is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers. I will focus on Windows, but the process is similar for Macs and Linux since it is the same software.
In order to run the program and video chat, your computer needs to be fairly new. Without going into technical details, the general rule of thumb is that it should be 4 years old or less. It may work on older computers, but you may experience choppy video as your computer struggles to keep up with the webcam.
Webcams come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties. The average price of a webcam is $50, and you really do get what you pay for. The first thing you need to consider is whether or not you even need a webcam. If you own a laptop, a webcam may already be built in. To check, you can look at the top panel of your screen and look for something that looks like a mini lens.
If you're not sure, check the documentation that came with your laptop and see if a webcam is present. You should also see if a microphone is built in, because video isn't as nice without sound.
If you own a desktop, or if your laptop doesn't have a camera, then you will need to purchase a webcam for your computer. I recommend shopping on Amazon for a webcam. I will talk a little here about the specifications and price you should look for. If you already have a webcam, you can skip to the next section.
To begin, go to Amazon.com and do a search for "webcam." You'll see a ton of results. You want to first establish a price range and go from there. As I mentioned, $50 is the average, and you can get really decent cameras for that price. Anything lower and you start sacrificing quality. Higher prices will get you really good cameras, but unless you're using it for a professional reason, a middle of the road camera will work fine. I bought the Microsoft LifeCam Cinema for $51 and it is an excellent webcam. I recommend that one if you don't have much experience with webcams and are looking for a first webcam purchase. If you prefer to browse around, I posted an image below of the specifications page you will see on Amazon, along with some explanations.
1. Check the specs to see what resolution your camera has. Some cameras, like this one, offer "720p HD." Be careful to check the other details because sometimes you can't broadcast in a full frame rate when using HD. What this means is that you can have really high quality images, but they will appear to the other person piece by piece, very choppy-like. In order to get smoother images, you will need to decrease the resolution. This isn't a major issue because the next lower resolution below 720p still provides clear and good video quality.
2. Auto focus is important. You will want a camera that has this because, as you move around on the screen, the camera will focus automatically.
3. Look for a camera with a glass lens. Some really cheap cameras could have plastic lens which don't provide good quality.
4. Each camera manufacturer (in this case, Microsoft) usually has some special technology they put in their products. Don't get too exited about it, the effects are usually minimal, but some offer better quality than others.
5. Definitely, definitely look for a camera that has a microphone built in, and preferably one that is noise-cancelling. Without it, you'll need to purchase another special microphone just for your computer, which can be difficult to set up.
6. These details just show the item's specifics. A longer warranty is good. Be sure to read the user reviews as well, as they are really helpful in judging a product.
When buying your webcam, it's also important to note what type of screens it can attach to. This is important because some webcams are made for thinner laptop screens and therefore won't fit on your desktop monitor. In addition, make sure it will work on your operating system. Most will work on Windows, but if you have Linux or possibly Mac, you may run into some issues.
Setting Up Your New Webcam
Now that you've purchased a web cam, it's time to install it. Almost every camera today has detailed instructions that come with it. The main thing is to insert the CD, follow the prompts, and plug in your webcam via the USB cable it came with. Make sure that all of the drivers install properly, and then you may need to restart your computer.
Setting Up the Software for Your Webcam
Your webcam may have come with software that you installed, and that is okay. But the problem is, not everyone in the world has downloaded that software. So if you're trying to talk to friends or family, they would have to have the same webcam to talk. This problem is solved by using a third-party software that is available for free to everyone in the world. It is called Skype. Essentially, this program uses your webcam and connects you with other people who have a webcam to talk and video chat.
Skype has a lot of other uses, such as calling landlines and international numbers for a few cents a minute. But for this guide, I'll be focusing on the video chatting aspect of Skype, which is free to everyone.
You have to first download and install Skype from skype.com.
Once the download finishes, run the installer file. Finish the installation, and then start Skype by double clicking its new icon. You'll be asked to create an account. On this screen, fill out your name and pick a Skype name. Most Skype names consist of firstname.lastname##, ## being some number. This isn't set in stone, but it's just how most names are made. Once you find a name that isn't taken, continue to the next page and fill in a location and some other information that can help your friends find you. Create and remember your password. You will need it each time you log on. Once you're finished, log on to Skype.
You may be prompted to test your webcam and microphone. If you are, just follow the steps, it's quite simple. Once you're done, you'll be taken to the main page that looks like this:
Make sure you are online by going to the "Skype" menu item and setting your online status to "online." Now, you want to test your video. Go to "Tools" > "Options" and on the left side of the window that appears, click "Video." You want to select your new webcam from the drop down list and then make sure the video is appearing in the window.
If your video isn't appearing, you may need to consult the manual that came with your webcam. Make sure that the right option is chosen from the drop down menu that corresponds to the name of your camera.
If you see video, then your webcam is successfully installed. Exit that window and you're back on the Skype homepage. In order to continue, you're going to need someone else who has Skype and a webcam at a different location. Once you find a friend, you can video chat with them.
Video Chatting on Skype
To video chat, you first must add your contact. This can be done by clicking "Contacts" > "Search for Skype Users." Type in as little or much information as you know, such as their name and location, and once you locate your friend, click "Add Contact."
Now that you've found a contact, it's time to video chat them. You must first wait until they are online. You will know they are online when the icon next to their name is green. When they are, click their name and choose "Video Call" on the right.
If the person accepts your call, you will be connected to them. After a brief delay, you will see their face and hear there voice and they should be able to see you. You can then wave and say hi!
Skype and any video chatting service relies on high speed internet access. Unless you have extremely fast internet connection, don't try to download other files or stream music while chatting. This will slow your internet down enough to make Skype very choppy.
Most webcams rely on a lot of light to work. For the best quality, always video chat in a well-lit room.
The webcam microphone picks up a lot of noise that you may not realize. While chatting, try to keep background noise at a minimum for the best audio quality.
Hopefully this guide has helped you learn to video chat. Video chatting is really simple and a great way to keep in touch with family members. Now, just make sure to get your family to get a webcam, and if they need help, send them a link to this page. I tried to write it for completely new users, so if you still have any questions, please leave a comment and I will do my best to help you.
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