Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Setting up a “NannyCam” or SurveillanceCam

With Skype, you can set up a “NannyCam” to make sure that your kids at home are fast asleep by 8:00 p.m. Here are some quick and easy ways to set up a surveillance camera at home:
  • Create a special Skype Name for your NannyCam: Be sure to set to set your Skype Sign In settings to Sign Me in When Skype Starts and Start Skype When the Computer Starts. This way, if your computer reboots, your NannyCam starts up automatically. If you are already logged in to Skype, you can change these settings by choosing File➪Sign Out from the Skype menu. A login page appears where you can set these options.
  • After you sign in with your NannyCam Skype Name, add your regular Skype Name to your Contacts list: The Contacts list for the NannyCam consists of only one person, namely, you. Of course, you may want to include your spouse’s Skype Name alongside yours. Whatever the case, the list is very short.
  • In your NannyCam’s privacy options, be sure to set the Allow Calls From option to Only People from My Contacts: Setting this option ensures that only you and your spouse can connect to the NannyCam.
  • Enable video and set it to start automatically: In your Skype Video Options window, select Enable Video and then select the check box next to Start My Video Automatically. In the Advanced Options, set the Call option to Automatically Answer Incoming Calls. Test your NannyCam by connecting to it over Skype from one of the other computers in your home, or even from work. Be sure to adjust your webcam to point to the specific area of the room you’re watching, and make sure that the lighting level is adequate. Remember, most webcams give some visual signal that they are transmitting, such as an LED that lights up. You can adjust the audio volume levels for the computer speakers next to the NannyCam so that you have a little PA system, or you can turn off sound altogether.
This kind of setup can give you some peace of mind when you are traveling and want to make sure that everything at home is safe and sound. Best of all, this is a simple and very affordable home security solution for homeowners. Get yourself an inexpensive webcam and dust off that out-of-date computer taking up space in your closet. You won’t have to worry about whether it has enough power; the webcam and Skype are the only applications you need it to run.

Video with file transfer

Video lets you see your fellow skyper, so it’s natural for both of you to want to see what you are both talking about. Unfortunately, holding up an article, letter, or any printed text in front of a webcam is likely to produce a slightly shaky, slightly fuzzy image that is more than slightly illegible. Instead of holding up a paper, transfer that file if you have it in digital form. If you don’t have a digital file, you can scan the article in advance of your video call and then transfer it. You don’t have to open your email to send the file, nor does your recipient have to open his or her email to download an attachment containing the file. We’ve found that transferring a file while we are connected through Skype video does not slow down the transfer rate. Mention it, send it, and show it. It’s almost like being in the same room!

Video with chat

You might think that having a chat window open during a video session would be redundant. After all, you can see and talk — why would you want to write, too? Here are several great reasons:
  • Exchange paragraphs of text: If you are collaborating on a presentation and you want to extract a paragraph from an existing document, you can copy and paste your work into the chat window as you are talking with your partner; this way, you can show the information.
  • Pass a Web link: You can give someone a Web link by just pasting the URL into the chat. Sometimes there’s no substitute for connecting straight into a site. Doing so clarifies the conversation because showing a Web site, image, or paragraph is easier than describing it.
  • Assist in conversations with multiple languages: If you are conferencing with someone who speaks a different language, the chat window can serve as an instant caption to clarify, translate, or define confusing phrases.

How to choose your video “set”?

It’s a good idea to pick a place, a “movie set,” for your videoconference. Although your hair might not cooperate for your on-screen debut, you can at least get the backdrop right. Here are some ways to get “set” for video:
  • Select an all-purpose background: The simplest set is a solid-colored background. Quiet backdrops such as curtains or undecorated walls actually make transmitting video a little easier because there is less visual information to send. However, with high-speed lines and more efficient webcam software, you can add more interesting backgrounds without degrading the video signal too much.
  • Create a mood: A good backdrop for your video setting might be a library wall. Another is your collection of photos or artwork on display. On the other hand, if you’re teaching online and need to demonstrate a lesson — perhaps you are teaching a Sign Language class, for example —then a simple, blank backdrop will prevent distractions for your viewers.
  • Lighting your set: Having a well-lighted area keeps you from being lost in the shadows. Lighting brings out color and detail of objects and individuals. Sensitive webcams can boost low light, but they need to have at least some light to boost. You can move a lamp stand close to your “broadcast station” if you don’t have enough natural light. Arrange your light source to illuminate your face. Fluorescent lights, usually mounted on the ceiling, cast a greenish glow (not very flattering), whereas tungsten lights, such as the ones usually used in table lamps, warm your skin tones. Although natural light is best, it’s available only during the day, of course. If you do have a source of natural light, take advantage of it, because you still need a little more light than whatever your computer screen provides. During the day, you can set up a laptop and portable webcam near a window, but be careful not to aim the camera at the window unless you want to appear in silhouette. Shift your chair, or move the angle of your laptop or desktop to take advantage of a light source such as a window behind a desk.
  • Control background sound: Another consideration for an effective video set is background sound. If you live near a road or highway, you might want to move away from the window to eliminate all that motor noise. If you are near a construction site, calling in the evening, after workers go home, is a better choice.
  • Choose a set outside your home: With wireless Internet access in public parks, cafes, or even libraries, you can have a video chat from your favorite hangout. Keep the location consistent, though. Every time you pick a new place to set up your webcam, you need to find a wireless connection, adjust your position to take advantage of the light, and accommodate background noise. Showing up at the same place at the same time shortens setup time. If you pick a venue with a lively, noisy background, dedicated headsets are required so that you can hear and be heard. A picture is worth a thousand words, but you need to hear the words as well as see the picture; otherwise, videoconferencing isn’t much fun. Visual “noise” can be as disruptive as any other brand of noise. On the other hand, all that background activity may be just what you want your caller to see. There’s no rule that videoconferencing needs to be just face to face. Determining the view your webcam shows makes you a director, of sorts, so be creative as you express yourself. Take advantage of the capability. A few preparations can make a big difference in your experience. Your videoconferencing environment is a balanced combination of backdrop, light availability, and camera model. Some more expensive webcams are much more sensitive to low light and transmit significantly better at night.

Skype webcam basic rules

We’ve all seen the caption rolling across our blank TV screens: “Please pardon the interruption. We are experiencing technical difficulties.” Skype video is your show, and a little attention to lights, sound, connections, and camera placement helps your viewers enjoy it more. Use the following “commandments” to help you keep your show on the air:
  • Plug in your camera.
  • Plug in your camera before launching Skype.
  • Plug in your microphone before using Skype (unless your video camera has a built-in microphone).
  • Point the camera the right way.
  • Turn on a light and let it shine on you!
  • Turn up the sound. Make sure that your sound setting isn’t on mute.
  • Make sure that your image resolution is not set too high; otherwise, you might see funky pixels and colors. You can change your image resolution within the specific video software installed with your webcam. Not all webcam software offers a choice of resolutions, so you may not have to worry about changing this. But if you have a choice, a video image that is 640 by 480 pixels and millions of colors may be a little rich for transmission bandwidth.
  • If you don’t see or hear anything, close Skype, plug in all your devices, and start Skype again.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Installing and Setting Up Video For Skype (On the Macintosh)

Some Macintosh computer models, such as the iMacs, have cameras built in, so there is no need to install a separate webcam and special drivers. Macintosh laptops and towers can accept firewire webcams (webcams that connect with a special firewire cable for fast video data transmission), such as the iSight camera, also without any additional software installation. Skype works seamlessly with the Macintosh video drivers to detect iSight as well as built-in cameras.
Not all webcams work with Macintosh or PC computers. Make sure that you read the system requirements on the webcam package before you buy it for your Skype video setup.
Setting up Skype video on the Macintosh is simple. The following steps use iSight as an example, but the steps should be similar for others.
  1. Choose Skype>Preferences>Video. The video configuration window opens. If you don’t have a built-in camera, plug your iSight webcam into a firewire port and turn it on by opening the lens.
  2. From the Camera drop-down list, select your camera if it is not already detected.
  3. Select the Enable Skype Video check box.
  4. Choose your video options by selecting the check boxes or radio buttons (as the case may be) next to each choice, as follows:
    • When I Am in a Call: It’s best not to check the option to start your video automatically. Give yourself a chance to compose yourself before appearing on camera.
    • Automatically Receive Video From: You can be super cautious and choose no one, or you can allow video only from people on your Contacts list.
    • Show That I Have Video To: You can choose to keep your video capability a secret and choose no one, or reveal it only to people on your Contacts list.
  5. Click the red gel radio button on the far-left corner of the window title bar to close your Preferences window.

Making a video call on your PC

Now you’d better comb your hair because you’re ready (we hope) to become a video star. Glance in the mirror to check your smile, clear your throat, adjust the camera, and take a deep breath; you’re about to go live on Skype!
To make a video call on your PC, follow these steps:
  1. Select a contact from your list in the main Skype window.
  2. Click the green call button.
  3. When your contact answers, click the little video icon located at the bottom of the Skype call window.
That’s all there is to it! You’re on the air in your very own show with your very own fans (even if those are just Mom, your kids, or Dennis from the office). It’s a good idea to test your webcam before you start your video call. From your Skype menu, choose Tools➪Options➪Video. In the Video Options window, click the Test Webcam button. Your video window will appear with a live image. If you don’t see anything, make sure that you have selected the Enable Skype Video check box and your cables are all plugged in!

Checking your sound settings

You’ll want to make sure that you’re actually piping in sound through your webcam and that the volume level is adequate. Many webcams have visual sound meters that light up as you speak so that you get feedback concerning your volume. One reason to check your webcam’s sound is that you may have more than one sound input device attached to your computer. If you’re unsure of which one is active, just tap the microphone — you’ll find out soon enough!
To adjust your volume:
  1. Choose Start>Settings>Control Panels>Sounds and Audio Devices. The Sounds and Audio Devices window appears.
  2. Click the Audio tab to open the Sound Recording window; there, click the Volume button. In the window that appears, you see a virtual sound mixer with four volume sliders. Among the sliders are two choices for audio input, Line In and Microphone. Select the check box beneath the volume slider labeled Microphone
  3. Using your mouse, move the slider up or down to raise or lower the volume.