Bridging the video chat chasm


One of the greatest gifts the web has given me is the ability to have video chats with my children who are in school far-away. Indeed, for my wife, if Apple video iChat were the only application on her computer, she would still think the computer was the greatest device ever. For me, video chat is the fulfillment of the long-promised “picture phone.” Even when you can’t actually be in the same physical space with them, there’s something about seeing your children eye-to-eye that communicates more than a voice conversation.

Apple iChat is great, but…

If both (or all) parties have enough bandwidth in their connection to the Internet, Apple iChat works intuitively and, frankly, never fails to awe me, despite having used it for years.

That’s the good part. Here’s the bad: It takes lots of “ifs” to make it work with ease and intuitively: iChat is only available for the Mac OS. If everyone has good bandwidth. If everyone knows how to manage firewall features, then it’s a marvel, but…

If you’re using iChat and want to video chat with someone not using a Mac and iChat, using, say, a PC and an AIM account, it’s supposed to work. However, if you’re like me, you’re going to find yourself never being able to quite get all the parties with the right versions and camera setups and preference settings and correct bandwidth, etc. I’m sure it works great for somebody out there, but not me.

Looking for alternatives

I’m always looking for solutions that will make video chatting with someone using a PC as easy as it is for someone using a Mac. Skype reportedly works pretty good, but I’ll admit that I’ve only used it with people who have Macs on the other end, so I’m not sure about the PC bridge. And now, Google has rolled-out gmail video chat, so that might be the answer. I can’t wait to try it out, but my first attempt required the other person to upgrade an OS version and that’s not in the cards.

Today, Lifehacker has a round-up of five video chat applications. Maybe one of those will be the perfect solution.

One day, I hope video chat is as ubiquitous as text chatting or voice-chatting (something we used to call talking on the phone).

And one day, I hope we’ll have the other futuristic gizmo promised my entire life: flying cars.