Today, my kid sister and her family moved to London, for at least the next two years. She has a great husband and two awesome kids, and even though they lived in New York City up until now, we’ve gone down to visit a ton over the past few years and have had a blast watching the kids grow up. So, needless to say, the idea of the whole bunch of them being so far away makes Shannon and me pretty sad, and we’ve been putting a lot of time into figuring out the best way to be able to video chat with them. When we’re just talking about us — Shannon and me chatting with Rachel and her husband and kids — things are simple, since we both have Macs with iSight cameras, and iChat couldn’t make things any easier. Of course, it’s now grown into more than just us; my parents and my brother and sister-in-law would also like to partake in the chats, and all of them are on Windows-based PCs. And as things turn out, it’s much more difficult to setup a Mac-to-PC video chat, and for it to match the quality of a pure Mac/iSight chat.
We started out by buying my parents a Logitech Quickcam for Notebooks Pro and installing AOL Instant Messenger. (We’re thinking about a Creative Live! Voice webcam for my brother and his wife.) I figured that things would just work fine, but quickly learned that that was an idiotic assumption; my first sign that there would be problems was when I noticed that the latest version of AIM, AIM Triton, is an enormously bloated bit of crapware that shares almost nothing in common with the application that we all know and tolerate. After getting through its painful setup process and ignoring all the entreaties to sign up for new services, I found the instant messaging component of Triton and added my sister to the buddy list. And despite being in the same house — and on the same network — as my sister’s Mac, I was unable to establish a video session between the two computers… because it turns out that Triton breaks all compatibility with iChat. Sigh.
Next, I tracked down and grabbed the older (and more compatible) version of AIM, and installed that. It had no troubles using the camera and establishing a video connection with my sister’s Mac, but the quality was middling at best (remember that we were even on the same network!), the video window was tiny, and there was no way to enlarge it. Double sigh.
Finally, I remembered that Trillian Pro, the alternative Windows instant messenger multi-client, had video chat abilities, so I downloaded and installed it. (Fortunately, I still have a license from back when my primary laptop was a PC.) It too was able to set up a video connection between the PC and Mac, and while the quality was equally middling, the window could be resized so that at least my parents didn’t have to squint to see that video. After a bit of optimizing the camera settings, we got a usable connection set up, so for now, that’s the solution we’re going with for all the non-Mac users.
But this begs the question: what are we missing? There have to be better options out there. For now, Skype only offers video on its Windows client, so that’s out. There are a couple of free video chat apps that work on both PCs and Macs (SightSpeed and Yak have been mentioned here and there), but I have no idea if they work any better than AIM’s offering. Likewise, there are a couple of commercial cross-platform clients (iSpQ, iVisit), but I’d have to know a lot more to recommend spending money on either to my family. And most importantly, any other solution needs to be reasonably easy to set up and to use when starting or accepting video chats.
So, does anyone have any thoughts?