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New technology, programs make video calling easy

By: The Chicago Tribune

April 13, 2011

Whether wishing to spend time with a grandchild once a week or reconnect with a childhood friend, sometimes distance eliminates the ability to visit with others. But to close the gap many are turning to video calls.

Older adults are finding the newest technology to keep connected can be pretty basic and user friendly.

Getting started

In order for the person you are communicating with to see you it requires a computer, TV or mobile device, an Internet connection and a web camera. In order to see the person you are talking to they need to have a similar set up on their end.

Chad Taylor, a representative at Abt electronics, says those with a newer laptop should be aware that it may already have a built in web cam. With one exception, all the laptops sold at Abt have a web camera.

But, if you need to purchase a web camera, the biggest question is: What are you going to do with it? says Taylor.

Most people video communicate or use Skype, a free online video calling service (details on how to use this are below), for a video phone call. There are other services available such as ooVoo.com, SightSpeed and SnapYap as well as many geared primarily toward business users.

"Abt has about 15 to 20 different web camera choices, but for video conferencing a basic $20 to $50 camera could suffice, he says.

But what is Skype?

"Skyping" may sound technical and involved, but Brianna Reynaud, senior PR manager at Skype, says people can begin video calling in a matter of a few steps.

Skype is a service that allows people to make voice or video calls at no charge using their computer and a web camera.

"We hear a lot of stories from people of all ages and have a lot of grandparents using Skype," Reynaud says of the popularity of the service.

Some grandchildren only see their grandparents a few times a year, but seeing their grandparents on Skype makes them more familiar and helps eliminate the stranger factor when they are reunited, she says.

Getting started is as simple as visiting Skype.com, selecting your computer system type, and downloading the application. You will be asked to create an account user name and password, and asked to install Skype. Once in, you can find people you know on Skype already or invite people to use it.

Higher tech

Rather than a computer, another option is to sit back on the couch and enjoy a video chat through the TV. Equipment varies, but Google TV enables video chatting and Panasonic and Samsung have partnered with Skype to make TVs specifically equipped for video calls.

For those who may have given web cameras a try in the past only to be frustrated or confused, today's technology allows users the opportunity to just plug in and play with very little set up, according to Taylor.

Making it even easier, companies like Cisco and ACN Inc. have created all-in-one video phones that operate on a high speed Internet connection.

Mobile devices such as the iPhone 4 with FaceTime can even put video calls in the palm of the hand with Wi-Fi access and a call to another iPhone 4 user.

Making the call

Reynaud says there are a few easy to follow tips that make video calling more successful. Having a reliable Internet connection and the right camera are a good start, Doing a test call is advised so you know everything is working.

© Copyright 2011 The Chicago Tribune