Create Free Video Mail

Posted on May 30, 2010. Filed under: Video Messaging | Tags: , , , , , |

Anyone with a webcam can quickly and easily create and send video messages for free. You don’t have to record videos with expensive equipment, and you don’t have to download software. Best of all no expertise is required. If you can create and send text email you can send video mail.  Many people believe that sending videos means recording very large files with a camcorder, and trying to attach it to an email. It usually doesn’t work due to email file attachment size limits. mailVU.com is a solution that doesn’t require camcorders or file attachments. mailVU.com has a free video mail service that doesn’t require a software download, and it doesn’t require a user account. Here is a step-by-step process for creating your first video mail.

Begin by opening any browser (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.) and going to http://mailVU.com. You will be prompted by the following request to allow access to your webcam. Select Allow.

Now you should be able to see yourself on the left side under Live Camera. If you don’t see yourself click on the drop down list of cameras and select the one that works for you. On the Mac it is typically called USB Webcam. Note that until you record a message the deletion options and email option is grayed out at the bottom of the screen.

Click the red Record button above your image to start the 5 minute recording session. This button will change to Stop after you click it, a notification will appear that recording is in process, and a timer counts down from 1 minute. When done click the red Stop button.

Now that the recording is made the information at the bottom of the screen is available to use. You may play back your message before sending it to someone. To play it back simply click the green Play button above your image. Your recording will now play in the right side window while you still see yourself live in the left side Live Camera window.

If you want to record over your message, click the red Record button again to overwrite it. When you are happy with your recording decide if you want to use an auto deletion function at the bottom.

The default deletion time frame is 30 days, but you can change it to anything between 1 and 365 days. And you could also specify the video to be deleted after a certain number of views. If both are checked then whichever event happens first will destruct the video mail.

You can now click Send this as a Video Mail and you will have the following screen to populate:

You fill in the email address fields, and you have the option of adding a text message to your video mail. You can copy yourself if you click the box at the bottom, and you have the option of being notified every time the recipient views the video mail. When done click Send Email. Congratulations! You have now sent your first video mail!

The user will receive an email which is less than 25kb in size that includes a picture of you linking to your video message. They click on your picture and click play and they will be able to hear and see you. To record a video message back to you they can follow this same process by going to http://mailVU.com.

By using mailVU.com anyone can quickly and easily send video messages to anyone in the world. Try it today for free!

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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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Why don’t businesses use webcams for video conferencing and video mail?

Posted on September 17, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

Consumers have quickly adopted webcams on home computers for video communications. This is evidenced by the rapid growth in Skype, YouTube videos, Vonei Meeting, and video chat programs. In the business world it seems natural that the proven tool of video conferencing would migrate from the expensive room based systems to computer webcam based video conferencing service. The power of sending video emails, instead of text emails, also appears to be a prime tool for businesses to communicate on a more personal level. So why have businesses been slow to migrate to these webcam based services?

The first barrier is of course having a webcam. It seems that 90% of new laptop computers have built-in webcams, and 100% of the netbooks have built-in webcams. For older laptops and desktops one can purchase external webcams for less than $50. There is a migration to wider video camera availability in the workplace, but without a conscious effort to use video many business people stick to text and audio phone calls.

The second barrier is some people want to “hide” behind the technology. It does make one pay attention when the other person can see you, and you have to make sure you are dressed appropriately. No more multi-tasking when the others can see you; it keeps you on your toes. If you are the boss this is something you should like. If you are an attendee and like to mulitask then the live video conferencing service on the computer may be undesirable.

A third barrier is incurring the cost of the service. Video conferencing with webcams is a widely available service that costs less than $50/month. The first in-person meeting that is canceled and held online instead will pay for the cost of the webcams and service. However some businesses are so focused on the small outlay for the service and webcams that they forget the cost savings. Or sometimes employees simply like traveling, and don’t want to replace it with online meetings.

A fourth barrier is simply that the technology is new, and unless there is wide spread use many people will shy away from new tools. Some of the video mail services are free, and yet they struggle to gain users. Why? One needs to have a webcam to record the video that is to be mailed. Without the webcam the free service cannot be used.

Are webcams the solution for increased business usage of video conferencing and video mail? Well I wouldn’t say the solution, but I would say they are enablers. With a webcam one can take advantage of video communications, and without it one is stuck with text and audio only.

Does anyone have a success story of deploying webcams in the business environment? We’d love to hear from you!

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Use Video Mail and Video Conferencing to Improve Your Communication

Posted on August 31, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Email has long been a communication tool of choice for businesses and consumers. The person does not have to be online when you send it; they can retrieve it later at a convenient time. You have to be careful in your wording so people do not misinterpret your meaning. We are all familiar with the rule of NOT TYPING IN ALL CAPS AS IT LOOKS LIKE SHOUTING. But even using normal letter writing rules it often is difficult to convey emotion and expression. For example if I write “That is really great.”, how do you react? Am I being sarcastic? Am I being sincere?

The inability to detect emotion and expression is even higher with text messaging and networks like Twitter. Don’t get me wrong, these are great communication tools. Really. But in 140 characters or less it is even more difficult to convey how you feel when you type a message. Audio calls are a step forward, as you can hear inflection in a persons’ voice. However most people on audio conference calls place it on mute and multi-task. So what are they really thinking?

To me there is nothing better than being able to communicate face-to-face and have the other party see your facial expressions, see you smile or frown, laugh, or any other reaction. You are more likely to get your meaning across when you can be seen. The best scenario is to be right in front of the other person live. A second option is conducting a live video conference call with the other parties. A third option is to use recorded video such as video mail. TV news shows use recorded video frequently, using videos taken earlier in the day or on a previous day.

In-person meetings are great, but they can be costly if travel is involved, both from the travel cost as well as lost productivity. Live video conferencing service is a great low-cost method of obtaining a face-to-face experience. Desktop conferencing services like Vonei Meeting fill the need for being able to hold multi-person video conference calls from your computer anywhere with broadband Internet. But how about the 3rd option? Well, one can record a video on their webcam, and attach the video file to their email. But have you seen the file size? Some formats could consume 8Mb for a 1 minute recording. This would not please your IT department, and may cause you to exceed the storage space allotment you have for email. You could post the video on YouTube, and then put a link in your email to it. This would keep the email from being large, but doesn’t exactly give you a professional image for a business email. Also, how many people really click on hyperlinks? Did you click on any of the links on this Blog?

A solution for recorded video communication would be an embedded video clip within the email. The embedded clip would have a still frame of the sender with the right triangle Play button on it. I believe you are more likely to get a click on the Play button if the recipient can see your face in the square. Storage of the video files is done outside of email in storage servers. Clicking the Play button within the email downloads the video right to the recipient. This provides all the benefits of an embedded video clip without the file size difficulties of attachments, or a nonprofessional technique of sending your recipients to YouTube.

Video mail sounds exciting right? However I don’t see it being used. I plan to include video mails in future updates on this Blog instead of all text. How do you feel about using video in emails? Would you like to see and hear the other person as opposed to just reading text?

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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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