There is never enough bandwidth. I’ve used dial-up as recently as this summer, and I survived. But I can’t say I enjoyed the experience. Earlier today, I had a few interrupted iSight conversations with various family members in New York, and the connection did not hold up. DSL on my end (SBC, not SBC Yahoo, despite their marketing efforts) and cable modem on the other end (not sure which company… Cablevision?)… and the connection stuttered enough to kill the video a few times. Frustrating.
When I see Tim Bray get excited about the inflexion point of videochats, I want to echo his call. And I remain pretty convinced that the combination of bandwidth, video, and better software will change computing as we know it. But this afternoon was a reminder that we’re not there quite yet. Still, since I wrote those notes about Toysight, I’ve come across a previous incarnation of workable video-computer interaction, for the PlayStation, the $50 EyeToy. Again, gaming showing he way.
Given my slight disappointment this afternoon, I wonder if Bray’s free ‘calls’ home will be up to snuff. Of course, free is a mighty big incentive. But (a) phone calls have gotten rather cheap, at least domestically and (b) the sunk costs of two computers and cameras isn’t exactly free, even if their cost was subsidized previously by separate usage. I hope he’ll write up his experiences in the future.
I had my first audio-only chat tonight, too, with a friend in Philadelphia for the holidays. It was OK, although I expected better with audio only. Clearly, there are some optimizations to try, probably in physical layout. The audio echo is the most noticeable glitch at my end, as the iSight microphone picks up the sound from the speakers. No vicious feedback whines, but a distracting overlay of sound. I have poor speakers, though, and perhaps their position could improve. If I’m ever to proceed past novelty status with this equipment, I’ll have to tweak and test. That’s not likely to happen until the girl is several months older, at least. For now, I’ll just keep stumbling into the future, thankful that my family is willing to forge ahead with some of these experiments.