Sunday, January 10, 2010

45 Years Later..."PicturePhones" Are Here...Almost

When I was a little kid I was fascinated with all things electronic. I remember, much to my parents chagrin, taking apart most anything with a plug on it. I also read everything I could find about new gadgets. I remember being fascinated by an article in Popular Science magazine about the first installation of a “Picturephone” kiosk in the lobby of the Prudential Building in Chicago. That was more than 45 years ago and the promise by AT&T that everyone would have a “picturephone” in just a few short years has not happened.

Well, the wait is over and the promise of an “inexpensive” video phone may still be elusive but “free” service is available. There are several options for video calls using a computer and the Internet. We will look at two of the most popular, one from Google and one from Skype. Both are similar and both provide a very good free service that is easy to set up and easy to use.

In order to use these services, beside needing a computer, you must have a high speed Internet connection, e.g., Road Runner or ZoomTown, and a webcam. Webcams attach to the USB port of your computer and serve to capture your image, and in most cases, your voice. Webcams can be purchased for less that $25 from most electronics stores. If you use a laptop or netbook computer, most come with webcams built in.

The free software can be downloaded from either or You will find it on the Skype home page. For Google, you need to look under the listing of all the Google offerings. This application is called “Google Talk”

While you can connect free with anyone in the world, both parties must be connected to the Internet and both must be using the same software. You can’t call a computer using Google Talk software using Skype software and visa versa.

The quality of the picture and sound are very good as long as your Internet connection is robust. In my tests locally with Road Runner, I was very pleased with the results.

As our families and friends seem to be increasingly on the move, using one of these services can help us stay in touch and you can’t beat the price.


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