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World Cup Voting – Who has the most fans?

Posted on July 8, 2010. Filed under: webcam | Tags: , , , , |

Check out the free video voting contest on who will win the 2010 World Cup.  mailVU.com has a video voting contest on their site which is free and easy to use.  Click on the flag of the team you want to win, and record your video vote saying why they will win. The World Cup vote videos are entirely free, and simple to make from any computer with webcam.  mailVU also has a free video email service you can use to let your friends know to vote too.

The mailVU site will post fan videos starting 7/9 so everyone can see the fun World Cup voting of their team fans.  The vote count will be provided right through the final game on Sunday.   Cast your video World Cup vote on mailVU.com today!

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Improve Communication Efficiency in 2010

Posted on January 31, 2010. Filed under: Video Messaging, webcam | Tags: , , , , , , , |

The calendar has turned over to 2010, but the economic challenges of 2009 are continuing to stay with us. Every business person I speak with talks about the need to reduce cost, meet goals with a sharply reduced workforce, and simultaneously improve quality and customer service. Our view is technology is the answer to improving performance in 2010. Communications is a budget line item that contains multiple cost elements. Direct expenses from your telephone, Internet, and audio conferencing vendors fall into this category. One must also include some travel costs into the “communications” expense line. After all, how much of your travel is associated with seeing clients and employees over a large geographic region? How about the cost of bringing job candidates into the office to interview? Airfare, hotel, rental car, and gasoline expenses all need to be included in the overall look at communications. Another cost is the lost productivity due to the time spent in travel when employees could be working instead.

One company that is focused on improving the cost and effectiveness of communications is Wingspan Performance Advisors. “We identified communications as a high potential area for saving money,” explains Wingspan’s president, Terry Dolan. “We cover the US and international markets from our headquarters in North Carolina, so we know all about meetings in far-off places and being on teleconferences at odd times.” WingspanPA focuses on:

  • Building a collaborative effort between our company and our clients
  • Creating strategies founded on analysis and data
  • Supporting our clients’ overall objectives and culture
  • Creating value for your business

WingspanPA utilizes Vonei Meeting service for live multi-person video meetings with clients throughout the world. By seeing all the other parties in the meeting WingsanPA can tell if participants are paying attention, or if they are placing the meeting on mute and multitasking. Vonei’s flat monthly or yearly price structure eliminates the costly per minute fee of traditional audio conferences. Since the service works on any computer over the Internet, there is no need for expensive cash outlays on equipment.

Vonei has vastly improved Wingspan’s remote meetings. “Our meetings are not only more efficient,” says Terry Dolan, “but they’re also much more effective. Every person at the meeting is engaged.” Vonei is so simple to use that Wingspan’s Talent Acquisition team utilizes it as a recruitment tool. “I can have face-to-face meetings with five different candidates in five different cities before lunch time,” says Fred Weber, a Wingspan executive recruiter.

Using online technology like Vonei Meeting can cut communications costs in 2010, while making it easy to continue face-to-face meetings with anyone in the world. To request a demo of the service email info@vonei.com, or call toll free 888-698-6634.

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How To Improve Your Webcam Video Quality

Posted on January 5, 2010. Filed under: webcam | Tags: , , , , |

Many business people are using computer webcams to conduct video calls, hold video conferences, and video interview job candidates. To ensure a good experience in your online session it is important to optimize the quality of the webcam video.

Video quality on your computer webcam depends largely on 3 factors:

  1. Webcam Quality
  2. Lighting
  3. Bandwidth.

Webcam Quality

I previously wrote a Guide to Selecting a Good Business Webcam which discusses many factors to consider in purchasing a quality webcam. It includes advice on specifications for image resolution, frames per second, features, etc., and also provided recommendations and sources to purchase your webcam. To summarize the Guide I recommend you look for a webcam with 1.3M pixel image resolution or better, speed rate of at least 30fps, and a good quality glass lens with auto focus.  When in doubt just go buy a Logitech.

The webcams built into laptops and netbooks unfortunately are not always the highest quality, and often are only 0.3M pixel resolution. They are also prone to breakage from opening and closing the clamshell. If you purchase an external webcam ensure that it has been tested with the service provider you plan to use, and that the webcam works on your operating system. No one wants to purchase a webcam with good specifications and then find out it doesn’t work on Windows 7, Vista, or Mac OsX 10.4.   Before an important online video session you need to make sure your webcam is working properly.  Simply click here to test your webcam. Bookmark the link and use it whenever you need to test your webcam to make sure it is working properly. Share the link with your friends so they can also test their webcams.

Lighting

It is amazing how much lighting can affect the quality of your online video experience. No wonder television studios have such strong lighting systems! If your video looks dim, grainy or washed out, try adjusting the location and brightness of your lighting. Below are some common problems caused by lighting and some suggestions to improve them:

  • Is the video dim? – There isn’t enough light in your room. Try turning on more lights, or move to an area where there is more light.
  • Is the image dim? – This could be caused by having a bright light source behind you. The camera adjusts its sensitivity to the background instead of you. Try positioning yourself so the light source is in front of you.
  • Is your video grainy? – While this could be caused by a low quality camera, it can also be caused (or made worse) by not having enough light. To compensate for the lack of light, cameras often adjust their sensitivity which creates more grain or “noise” in the image. Try turning another light on, or sitting closer to and facing the light source.
  • Is your video choppy? This can be caused by not having enough light in your room, but can also be caused by not having enough bandwidth. Try turning on more lights and if you still have the problem, read the section below on Bandwidth.
  • Does the image look washed out? This is usually caused by a light that is too intense (example: having a light shine directly at your face). Try dimming the light, or reflecting the light off a light colored surface, like a white piece of paper on your desk.

Bandwidth

Having sufficient bandwidth is key to a good video call. Bandwidth may vary during the day based on factors such as the amount of traffic on the network, the number of people using your Internet connection, and whether you are downloading or streaming something else. Below are three measurements of your connection speed that will influence your video quality:

  • Downstream Bandwidth – This is the amount of bandwidth you have coming to your computer from the Internet. You should have at least 1Mbps downstream bandwidth to ensure good quality video for multi-person conferences and screen sharing.
  • Upstream Bandwidth – This is the amount of bandwidth you have going from your computer to the Internet. You should have a minimum of 128kbps upstream bandwidth; for the best quality video and for multi-person conversations you should have 256kbps and higher.
  • Webcam fps.  There are several factors that influence the webcam frames per second.  A guide to these factors, including a free fps test and tips on how to improve your webcam fps is found on the webcam fps test site.
  • Latency – This is the amount of time it takes for the traffic you send to reach its destination. If you notice it is taking a long time for your friend to respond or that you are talking over each other, this is probably being caused by high latency. Your latency should be below 250ms. Latency problems are often caused by network congestion, if you experience problems, try ending the video conversation and starting it again.

It is a good idea to test your bandwidth prior to holding an online video session. Vonei is one of several sites that provides a free bandwidth speed test.

There is a free service to send webcam video mail to anyone in the world with an email address: http://mailVU.com.  It is a great way to utilize your webcam to personalize messages for birthdays, holidays, or for business contacts.  The free service has a self-destruct feature where you can set the video to stop after x views or x days.  Give it a try.

I hope this article on webcam video quality has been helpful. I welcome your comments, suggestions, and feedback from your own experiences.

Vonei LLC is a provider of video interviewing and video conferencing services.

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How to Pick a Good Business Webcam (Part II of II)

Posted on November 23, 2009. Filed under: webcam | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Previously I introduced this series on selecting a webcam by briefly discussing Image Resolution, Motion, Features, Service Providers, and external vs. internal models. This second and final installment, built on the list of topics introduced previously in Part I, discusses webcam mounting types, microphones, unique properties of the Mac, conference room options, and sources to purchase your webcam. At the bottom is a list of recommended webcams based on our experiences at Vonei, and an online source where you can purchase them.

A friend of mine pointed out that internal webcams on laptops are convenient, but are usually lower quality and can break more frequently. Closing the laptop screen repeatedly could eventually result in a small crack in the lens or a sensor misalignment due to the shock. My friend’s daughter got a Lenovo for college and the camera was broken in 2-3 months. She uses her laptop quite a bit and opens and closes it frequently. She reported there is now a big black line right in the middle of the picture, a symptom of a cracked lens Having an external webcam is a good safety net as well as a means of getting a higher quality image and motion.

Mounting Types. Webcams are usually optimized for desktop computers or laptop computers. What’s the difference? Desktop computers are likely to need a webcam that accommodates sitting on a flat surface. Clip-on webcams are not as ideal for flat surfaces. Desktop computer CPUs are often placed on the floor. To plug in your USB webcam to the CPU, and have the webcam sitting in a position showing your face requires a long USB cable. If you have a desktop look for these two features. A laptop requires the opposite characteristics. A clip-on webcam is ideal, and the smaller the better for carrying the device while traveling. A laptop is ideal for a short USB cable. After all, who would want several feet of USB cable coiled on their desk when they only need a couple of feet length between the USB port and the top of the laptop screen?

Webcams with microphones. Webcams come with or without a microphone. After the past couple of years in testing webcams I’ve come to the conclusion that it is best to use a computer headset with microphone, and not the microphone in the webcam. Computers are inherently not good speaker phones, and sound from the computer speakers could enter the webcam microphone causing an echo effect. A headset places the “speakers” on the ears, and the microphone right in front of the mouth. A headset provides the best audio experience, making the webcam microphone a non-required feature.

Webcam fps. There are several factors which impact the frames per second produced by your webcam.  For a guide to these factors, a free fps test tool, and tips on how to  improve the fps on any webcam, see the webcam fps test site.

Mac webcams have unique characteristics. Macs are optimized for use with Apple’s services such as iChat. While they do a great job, it is inconvenient for video conferencing with people on PCs or Linux computers. The Macs will not release the webcam to other service applications unless you turn off webcam access to iChat, Photo Booth, and Skype. Also, Mac users need to select the USB webcam when they use their service. This is true even if the webcam is built-in. Why one has to select USB when the webcam is built-in is puzzling, but trust me, unless you do this the Mac webcam may not work on your video service.

Conference Rooms. Webcams are great when the users are sitting right in front of their computer. But what do you do in a large conference room with multiple people? A little known fact is that you can use a video camera, and some digital cameras, as a webcam. You will need a video capture cable to connect your computer to the video camera (source provided below). With a video camera you can mount in on a tripod on the conference room table and show everyone in the room. If the computer is plugged into a large screen monitor, or plugged into a projector and shown on the wall, everyone in the conference room can see the other parties. Plug in a USB speaker phone and you have a very low cost solution, avoiding a large investment in traditional video conferencing equipment.

Final thoughts before the recommendations. Lighting can play a major factor in the quality of the webcam image. Never sit with a window behind you, as the background light source will place your face in shadows. Having a desk lamp is very helpful in shining light on your face, improving both the image contrast and color. Another recommendation is to ensure that the webcam you purchase has been tested with the service provider you plan to use, and that the webcam works on your operating system. No one wants to purchase a webcam with good specifications and then find out it doesn’t work on Vista or has an interoperability issue.

Webcam recommendations and sources. After the past couple of years of experience with webcams I recommend the following units:

Brand Model Online Source Recent Price

Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 www.newegg.com $75.99

Logitech QuickCam Communication MP www.newegg.com $44.99

Vonei V8019 www.videointerviewkits.com $24.99

Video Capture Cable  www.videointerviewkits.com $24.99

I used to recommend the Microsoft LifeCam VX-3000 ($26.99 at newegg.com) until we had several users complain of interoperability with Flash video. I believe Microsoft placed a software patch on their website to fix this, so if you’re game for downloading software patches the Microsoft webcam may work well for you.  Overall Logitech makes a great lineup of quality webcams.

One service you should try with your new webcam is the free video mail service from http://mailVU.com.  You can record private video messages and send them to anyone in the world for free.  A great feature they offer is the self-destruct function where you can have your video deleted after x views or x days.  Give it a try.

Alan Fitzpatrick is the Co-founder of Vonei LLC which provides live video conferencing service across PCs, Macs, and Linux computers. VideoInterviewKits is an affiliate of Vonei LLC. Additional information about Vonei can be found on http://www.vonei.com.

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How to Pick a Good Business Webcam (Part I of II)

Posted on November 3, 2009. Filed under: webcam | Tags: , , , |

Video communication is advancing from business travelers calling home from the road, to desktop video conferencing, video email, and video interviewing. To take advantage of these applications you need a quality web camera. Most newer laptop computers and netbooks have built in webcams, while desktop do not. The companies I’ve spoken with have indicated the need to identify webcam requirements and have asked what models are best. This article will examine different facets of web cameras, with advice based on our experiences at Vonei.

Image Resolution is critical to a good business video experience. You certainly will not want a fuzzy image when conducting a video interview, or leaving a video email for a customer or prospect. The primary image factor to consider in your webcam is Megapixel resolution Just like a digital camera, the more megapixels the better. We’ve found that webcams with less than 1.3 Megapixels (1,280 pixels by 960 pixels) provide a low quality image. 2.0 Megapixels is better, and in general the higher rating the sharper the picture. At one point CCD cameras were considered superior to CMOS cameras, but after testing with both over the past 2 years I cannot say that one is superior to the other for Internet video applications. CMOS cameras are less expensive and will work fine.

Smoothness of Motion is determined by the Frames Per Second (fps) rating. A 30fps rating provides a smoother motion than 15fps, with less trailing of movement. 30fps is the North American television standard for video. A “talking” head doesn’t have a lot of motion, and 15fps will generally work fine. If you want to broadcast someone moving, say a person doing physical therapy, then the higher fps makes an improvement in the motion. We don’t recommend a camera with less than 15fps as motion delays become obvious. The best choice is to look for the full 30fps specification.  There are several factors which impact the frames per second produced by your webcam on v ideo chat sessions.  For a guide to these factors, a free fps test tool, and tips on how to  improve the fps on any webcam, see the webcam fps test site.

Features such as face-tracking and auto-focus have had mixed reviews. They both sound great on the surface, but if a person is moving around the constantly changing view on the webcam can be very annoying to the other users. For a “talking head” use of a webcam these features are generally not required. One feature I do like is the plug-n-play aspect of the USB 2.0 webcams. Eliminating the need to load software from a disk is a nice plus as it makes it easy to move the webcam between computers.

The service provider you use for your video communications has a major impact over your experience, and your web camera specs could very well exceed their capabilities. Most service providers will limit the data rate to 200-300kbps to accommodate DSL and Cable Modem upstream bandwidth limitations. The service provider selects the rate at which key frames are sent. (A keyframe in a video contains the entire image.) If a keyframe is sent every second when running your webcam at 15fps, the in-between 13 frames are difference frames. The best thing to do is purchase a webcam that meets the pixel and fps specs recommended above, and then try the webcam on various services. You may very well see image quality and motion smoothness differences between providers.

Internal versus External webcams. Internal webcams are great for ease of use, and since they are located at the top center of the screen they give the appearance of looking right into the camera. I wouldn’t buy a laptop without a built-in webcam due to this convenience. However, the built-in models are typically minimum acceptable quality. They are fine for most applications, but not as good as external webcams with better specifications. I like the external webcams (such as Logitech) with the specifications recommended above, and frequently clip one on the top center of my laptop screen right above the built-in webcam. It is a simple matter of selecting this second webcam in the video service you are using. External webcams have the drawback of having an extra device to carry with you, but the benefit of better video has been worth it for me. Of course for desktop computers the external webcam is the only option. Just be sure to place the external webcam as close as possible to the center of your monitor screen so you are seen as looking “into the camera”.

In Part II of this article we will discuss webcam mounting types, microphones, unique properties of the iMac, conference room options, and sources to purchase your webcam.

Alan Fitzpatrick is the Co-founder of Vonei LLC which provides live video conferencing service across PCs, Macs, and Linux computers. Additional information about Vonei can be found on http://www.vonei.com.

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How to Use your Video Camera as a Webcam

Posted on August 24, 2009. Filed under: webcam | Tags: , , , , , |

Webcams have come a long way over the past few years and now for around $20-50 you can buy a nice 1.3 or 2.0 megapixel unit such as those from Logitech. Meanwhile we have digital cameras and video cameras that get significantly better imagery. Have you ever wanted to plug in a video camera for your web meeting or video conference and use it as a webcam? With a long enough USB cable you could walk around the room and broadcast video live, or mount the video camera on a tri-pod in a conference room and have a quick and easy solution for a large group. In both cases having a high quality external video camera provides an improvement over built-in laptop webcams or even external webcams. It might even replace the expensive hardware based video conferencing solutions.

Fortunately, you can easily add your video camera or digital camera to your computer as a webcam. All you need is a special cable with video capture software. I recently purchased the cable on www.videointerviewkits.com for under $30. It came with a software installation disk, but since I have a 64bit Vista computer I had to download an additional driver off their web site. One end of the cable plugs into a USB slot on your computer, and the other end plugs into your camera using your regular composite cable.

I tried a Sony video camera, a Panasonic video camera, and a Canon Powershot digital camera as webcams on the Vonei Meeting video conferencing service, and all worked great. The improvement in the image quality was amazing. Since I already had these devices it only cost me less than $30 for the cable, and now I have a high quality, large room webcam solution for my online meetings.  I also used the camcorder to create video mail on the free http://mailVU.com service.   This private and secure video mail service has a cool self-destruct feature where you can destroy your video after x days or x views.

Being able to use a video camera in online video conferencing services opens up the possibilities for all kinds of online events. Imagine hosting a cooking demonstration on a video conferencing webinar where the video camera shows the chef from overhead and in front. One could broadcast the event live and let participants ask questions of the chef. Or you could hold fantasy football league drafts where remote participants could see the room and commissioner live. Web conferencing takes on a whole new meaning when you can see live video of all the participants. With a video camera or digital camera serving as the webcam you won’t have to apologize for the video quality.

Video fps. There are several factors which impact the frames per second produced by your camera when using video chat.  For a guide to these factors, a free fps test tool, and tips on how to  improve the fps , see the fps test site.

Other factors in reaping the benefits of an improved video source are having sufficient upstream Internet bandwidth at your broadcasting location, and a web conferencing service which can accept the high quality images and 30 frames per second (fps) motion capture.  Services such as Paltalk and Fuze Meeting allow multiple person live video conferencing up to 30fps.  And both of them offer free 30 day trials.  You can select your camera source as an external video camera, and conduct your video conference using standard Flash players for display on participant’s computers. No software downloads. No expensive equipment to buy. A simple  cable with your existing video camera on Vonei service can open the door to a world of possibilities.

Try using your video camera as a webcam and let us know how you like it!

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