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'Face time' gifts offer special holiday presents
The holidays may be the only time during the year all of your extended family comes together to celebrate the season and enjoy some quality time. However, once a year may not be enough for many families.
For example, grandparents are often eager to watch their grandchildren develop. Families want to stay in contact when loved ones are serving in the military overseas. Parents need to keep tabs on college students far from home. One way to keep in touch is by using a web conferencing or desktop videoconferencing system.
A web-conferencing system includes the conferencing software, a webcam and a microphone. In addition, users must have a computer and a high-speed Internet connection. There are many types of web conferencing software; some are free, while others charge a nominal fee. When selecting web-conferencing software, there are several important elements to consider.
How many computer locations will participate at one time? Some software packages allow for people on only two computers to communicate at a time, while others allow for people on 10 or more computers to communicate at a time.
Many popular choices, such as Skype and Adobe Connect Now, offer free videoconferencing between two people, but extra services require an upgrade. Other videoconferencing software, such as Oovoo or iVisit, offer free web conferencing, or “video chatting.” Both Facebook and Google+ offer video chatting features.
Besides the software, you will need a webcam and microphone. Many newer laptops have built-in webcams; every laptop has a built-in microphone, usually located behind the keyboard. However, these built-in features may not offer the quality or flexibility needed for your video chat. When shopping for a webcam, consider the resolution, megapixels, pan and tilt as well as the mount.
Less expensive webcams have a resolution is 640x480, which is adequate for most users. More expensive webcams usually have a resolution of 720p, which is a tech-talk for a high definition resolution of 1280x720. Remember that the higher the resolution, the more bandwidth the conference will consume.
Bandwidth is a term that refers to the amount of Internet available to you at one time. For example, if you are on a videoconference with someone overseas at the same time your child is looking up information on Google, then you may not have enough bandwidth to run the video chat at the higher resolution of 1280x720.
Most webcams are measured in both video resolution and effect resolution. Effect resolution is measured in megapixels. Usually, webcams have 1.3 megapixels or higher. A webcam with 1.3 megapixels will take a photo that measures 2x3 inches, large enough to be uploaded to Facebook.
Pan and tilt simply refer to your ability to manipulate the camera up and down and back and forth. The last aspect to consider is how the webcam mounts to your monitor. A webcam with a flat base is best for the older CRT monitors, but most users will need a webcam with a clip or a stand. A clip-based webcam will clip to an LCD monitor or laptop screen, whereas a stand-based webcam will stand on a pedestal. Clip-based webcams usually come with a pedestal as well.
Buy a webcam with a built-in microphone or buy a standalone microphone. Lastly, be sure that the webcam is compatible with the operating system. For example, if your computer is using Windows XP, the webcam must be compatible with Windows XP.
This holiday season, take time to enjoy friends and family, and try video chats to keep in touch year round.