Skype, iChat, and phone calls

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So, I just got an e-mail a few minutes ago that Skype is now allowing free "SkypeOut" calls anywhere in the U.S. and Canada, which means you can now use Skype to call any regular telephone in that region (or mobile phone) for free. I've used Skype before, but I was curious how well it worked (and never wanted to pay for the service in the past), so I just gave it a shot, and it works pretty well. The person on the other end heard a bit of an echo, and the quality wasn't quite as good as a telephone call for me, but it was better than I expected. I'll probably use it again in the future for long distance calls sometimes.

On a related note, though, I have both a Mac and a PC, and I've had occasion to compare the video capabilities of Skype (which aren't available on Mac yet) with that of iChat (on the Mac). The quality with iChat seems a lot better. Does anyone know what's going on behind the scenes? My guess is that Skype isn't using the full bandwidth it could, while iChat seems to be using a lot more bandwidth, but I'm not sure. Regardless, I am delighted with iChat and keep using it to have video meetings with folks at work and elsewhere, while Skype's video is a bit more of a pain to watch. While it's still better than no video, I'd hesitate to use it for a meeting.

I find it remarkable that after decades of predictions that video telephony was just around the corner, now it has finally arrived -- but it's over the Internet, and with relatively little hoopla. We had some relatives on the other coast get Skype so we could call and show them live video of us with our new baby, and they had no idea that such a thing was even possible until they saw it.

5 Comments

My friends in Turkey use it to call the U.S., and they love it. I don't think it's the same quality or reliability as Vonage or other internet phone services, but it is free. I didn't know it had video, either. You can't do that with Vonage (though I suppose most new cell phone models have it, but that's on a tiny screen).

I use Skype quite a lot to keep in touch with my far flung family. The grandparents love being able to see the little one. The first time my mother used it to call her baby boy in Ohio she cried at the sight of him. You can guess how long it took my Dad to go out an get broadband service at home. I've also used Skype for conference calls where the people on the other end were on land-lines and couldn't tell I was calling over the Internet. I think some of the variance in Skype quality is related to the hardware on both ends. I notice different A/V quality depending on which camera and audio setup my caller is using. I wonder what a comparison between Skype and iChat using the same hardware would show.

I'll probably be set up to try the comparison using the same hardware pretty soon. Skype Mac still doesn't allow video, but they're saying they'll come out with it soon, in which case I can compare iChat and Skype using my Mac. I'll post again if/when I can do that. Right now, I have an iSight (a pretty nice camera, IMO) on the Mac and a more chintzy one on the PC.

I've had Ichat meetings with lots of echoes or lag and experienced the same thing with skype. Lots of stuff might come into play: codecs, data packets, actual speeds on the dsl-line, applications running at the same time...whole lot of variables.

So if anyone has done some hardware tests and figured all those other issues out (or into) the comparison, it'll be a tough call.

I was a bit shocked when a friend of mine & I tried iChat AV and Skype video conferencing back-to-back - between Bangkok and Houston, Skype was the clear winner and I can only suspect it is because of the P2P algorithms at work. this test was between a 2.16Ghz macbook and a iMac (2007 model, GHz unknown)

That said, iChat AV is reportedly higher quality within the states -I can't vouch for this personally.

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