Our group is testing a computer-based video phone that operates via four components: a webcam, a microphone/earphone headset, a broadband connection, and a piece of software that ties all of these together. Last night was the first chance I’d had to test the videophone in action.
Here’s a screenshot from my conversation with Mac (click to open a larger image in a new window):
The videophone is fun to use, despite my initial skepticism.
It’s not without its problems, though. Image and sound quality are poor at times, and may degrade over the course of a call (more testing will determine this, I suppose). The videophone headset incapacitates my computer’s speakers; if I want to play a game or listen to mp3s, I either have to wear the headset (which has only one earpiece) or crawl around behind the computer, unplugging and plugging wires.
In order to actually get paid for participating in this market research — you didn’t think we were doing this for free did you? — we need to complete a journal entry after each call. For example:
Call Date: 06 May 2003
Start time of call: 09:50 p.m.
End time of call: 09:57 p.m.
Who did you speak with? Mackenzie Smith
They called me / I called them He called me.
What was fun about this call? Why?
This call was fun because both the video quality and the audio quality were the best for any call yet. Mac’s voice was perfectly clear, though he sounded as if he had a cold. The video was not perfect, but that’s probably because I had adjusted the video quality to the lowest setting after deciding that it had no affect on my calls with Joel. Another fun thing, though not wholly relevant, was that Mac and I were both able to tell that things Weren’t Quite Normal: he noted that I was at Kris’ computer instead of mine (because the videophone software refuses to install on my computer) and I noted that he had flipped his video image.
What was annoying? Why?
There was nothing about the call itself that was annoying this time. I was most annoyed by having to wear the headset. I would have liked to be able to use the in-camera microphone and to listen to Mac via my computer’s speakers. (I have concerns that the videophone’s headset will prevent me from using my normal speakers because I’m too lazy to crawl around unplugging cables and plugging them back all the time.)
Please list the features you used.
Mac called while I was in the middle of another call to Joel. The videophone would not let me answer Mac’s call until I had ended the call to Joel. This feature seemed pretty straightforward, though I would make one change.
What changes would you like to make to the videophone system? Why?
It seemed sensible to me that if I were to tell the alert box that I wanted to connect to Mac, that it would warn me that doing so would disconnect from Joel and then give me the option to do so. Instead, I had to cancel out of the alert box, disconnect from Joel, and then take Mac’s call. Of course — and you already know this — what the three of us *really* wanted to do was connect for a conference call.
I wonder if the difficulties in speaking with Joel stem from the settings he’s given his hardware, either in the control panel, the individual drivers, or the videophone application itself. Maybe the three of us (Mac, Joel, and myself) can get together and compare notes regarding our setups.
I’m curious to see how we use the videophone during the next few weeks.