The Norman Transcript

March 3, 2013

Skype: the George Jetson phone arrives


The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — I worked recently for a lady who asked me to buy her a video camera, or “webcam,” for use with her computer. She has relatives overseas, who had been pestering her for the longest time to get a webcam so that they could keep in touch over the Internet.

“How,” you may ask, “would a video camera for my computer help me keep in touch with my family and friends?” Remember those video telephones that we were all promised back in the 1970s and 80s? They never quite materialized, did they? Even though the technology to make video phones did in fact exist, it was so expensive that hardly anyone could afford it. The Internet, for all practical purposes, didn’t really exist at the time and the idea of video phone calling for the masses just sort of faded away.

Things are different, now; relatively powerful home computers, laptops and tablets, combined with inexpensive video cameras and the Internet, have made video phone calls a reality. I remember watching episodes of the sci-fi cartoon “The Jetsons” on TV when I was a kid, seeing George Jetson make calls on his videophone and thinking, “Jeepers, why don’t we have one of those in our house?” Now, we do, and now you, too, can contact anyone in the world and see their face and hear their voice, all for free. One of the easiest ways to do this is using a free service called Skype.

You can somewhat do the same thing with some modern smartphones, but the results are not nearly as satisfying as with a larger-screened computer. To get started, you and whoever you wish to contact will both need a computer and the Skype program. Any modern computer will do, but those with faster processors and larger amount of random access memory (RAM) will see better performance. Faster Internet connection speeds will give better results, too.

While you can make voice-only Skype calls using a simple microphone/earphone headset, it’s way more fun to make video phone calls. As such, you’ll need a webcam, preferably one that has a built-in microphone. Alternately, many computers have these items built-in, negating the need to buy anything extra.

If you need to, installing a webcam is fairly straightforward; just put the CD that comes with the webcam in your computer and follow the instructions. Next, go to skype.com and download and install the Skype program. The program will ask you to create a Skype account, and make up a password. Use a strong password; you don’t want anyone hijacking your Skype account. Follow the instructions and setup the program to your liking.

Making Skype calls couldn’t be easier. There is even a “Skype Test Call” function where you can test your connection and setup. Once everything is in place, you’ll need to know the Skype Name, full name or email address of who you want to contact. Click the Add Contact link, enter the required information and Skype will find your contact. Click the button to call, and, if your contact is on line, you’ll be connected. Click the Full Screen button for even more fun.

Don’t expect Hollywood-quality video or audio. After all, it’s not unusual for a video production company to spend $50,000 on a camera and $2,000 on a microphone. Internet dropouts and routing will also affect performance. Still, I think that it’s amazing that we can even make video phone calls in the first place. Skype is super-easy to use and loads of fun; I recommend it.

Dave Moore has been performing computer consulting, repairs, security and networking in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 405-919-9901 or www.davemoorecomputers.com

For local news and more, subscribe to The Norman Transcript Smart Edition, or our print edition.