With Kristin in the Philippines voice and video communication over the internet has become more interesting and important. Before she left, I snagged a couple of Logitech webcams so that we would be able to see each other during the time she was away. This would be working out much better if her hotel would actually have their internet service up…
That said, Skype seems to be the defacto software for free video calling. Last night, Sean and I ran through different products through the ringer to determine which would offer the best voice or video quality. The software tested was the most recent version of Skype, Steam (voice only) and Google Voice through Google chat.
One of the most interesting discoveries of the evening was how CPU bound we were in terms of quality. My test machine was a three year old laptop that has a single core Sempron 3400+ (2.0ghz and 128k of L2 cache), one gig of ram and Windows 7 Pro. The video quality would immediately and very noticeably degrade if I tried to *anything* but use the communication application as the CPU was running near or at 100% when ever the camera was in use. Any dual core setup should remedy this performance issue.
First, we tried to do voice chat over Steam. This was a disaster. Sean and I have extensively used Steam before to do voice chatting, but for some reason last night was not the night for it. It was crackly and very near non-functional. We’ll have to investigate why the performance was so horrible, maybe it had something to do with using a webcam instead of a dedicated microphone? Grade: D-
Next up was trusty Skype. This worked easily and well, call quality was sharp along with video quality. I was able to give Sean a tour of our freshly re-floored and painted future office. The only issue was how big of a CPU hog it was, making using any other applications notably decrease voice and video quality. Grade: A-
Lastly we fired up Google Voice over google chat. The installation and configuration of this application is easier and quicker than Skype given that it is a browser plugin. It is linked to from within the Google chat application that appears on the left sidebar when signed into gmail. Sadly, the performance hit enabling video over Google Voice turned my video into a slideshow and so overwhelmed the poor laptop that voice dropped as well. I know the CPU in the laptop isn’t a beast, but it is a 2ghz semi-modern CPU and skype offered decently quality with full functionality on the same processor. Google Voice is one of those perpetual Beta apps that Google releases so a lack of polish and tuning can probably be expected. Still, it basically didn’t work. Grade: C-
Well, that’s it. As Sean suggested, I’ll likely be moving a PC upstairs to take the laptops spot. That should remedy the performance issues and I will post some follow up thoughts once that is complete.