Video Phone over the Internet. Even an Idiot can figure it out! March 21st, 2000
Randy: Hey man, what's on the slab this week?
Gary: Well I was thinking of a project I have been working on. I have been trying to graft the DNA from a glazed doughnut
Randy: Mmmmm, doughnuts
Gary: with the DNA from a common pet store hamster! I'm calling them Munchsters!
Randy: Oh my God! Have you complete lost your mind! Are you daring to PLAY GOD!?!
Gary: Alright, alright so it would seem a little cruel to create a breed of creatures that are just for consumption.
Randy: No, I don't mean that. Besides, moron, those are called cows, look into it.
Gary: So you are upset by the idea of a human disturbing the natural pattern of evolution through man's tinkering with the building blocks of life, DNA?
Randy: Who gives a rat's ass about messing with DNA? Mankind sealed its fate on that score after the whole sheep-cloning thing anyway.
Gary: Then what's the problem!
Randy: You will have created a doughnut with legs that can get away.
Randy: I don't wanna have to chase my snack food down under the sofa every time I have the munchies.
Gary: But you can imagine the shag carpet remnants and lose change stuck in the glaze are like sprinkles.
Randy: No, I couldn't. Do we have another topic for this week or do we have to go straight to the pummeling?
Gary: Well we could talk about the coolest way to hang with friends over the Internet.
Randy: Capitol idea! I assume you are referring to the most excellent, ClearPhone from Engineering Consulting?
Gary: You bet. This is a wonderful way to use the Internet or an AppleTalk network to video conference.
Randy: As some of our readers will remember, Gary moved from our New York office to Houston many months ago. Yet as we write these columns we seem as though we are still wasting time,
Gary: And oxygen!
Randy: face to face just like in the old days.
Gary: Well to tell the truth we did run up some pretty high phone bills at first. Between business calls, writing calls and wasting time calls the bills were astronomical.
Randy: Gary and I quickly realized we would have to find a less expensive way of keeping in touch between New York and Texas.
Gary: Enter ClearPhone. With this flexible and easy to setup program we were off and running in just a few minutes. And that's following our strict adherence to the "Read the Instructions Rule", which is, "NEVER read the instructions!"
Randy: In fact, I was stunned at how intuitive this software was, considering what it does. The access to all of the network, servers, helper apps most importantly video and audio setting are all on one simple control palette. So all of your set up can be done in this palette.
Gary: Here is where this program really shines. ClearPhone is QuickTime based and it accepts video input from just about any source. Connectix cams, USB cameras, video cameras pretty much anything that you can plug into you Mac can be seen by ClearPhone.
Randy: In fact, it saw both my old Connectix serial camera and my ATI Xclaim VR card's video in without any tweaking. It also saw a phantom Connectix USB camera due to my accidentally having the USB drivers on my installed machine. (Result of following "Never read the instructions!" rule previously mentioned.)
However once I selected which video in I wanted, the Connectix serial camera in my case, I was up in living color on my own monitor.
While it may not win any eye candy awards, ClearPhones simple control palette gives you access to all your important settings
Gary: Additionally you see your own video window. Then there is a list of people connected to your AppleTalk network and a list of users connected to the Internet. To place a call to someone just double click their name in the list and a call window pops up.
Randy: On the other end a call window pops up with the callers name in ip address, and you hear a standard telephone ring from your Mac. You can choose to answer the call of hang-up, as I often did on Gary.
In the call box you can turn off your video or sound access the shared white board, transfer files email and more. The RECV and TALK lights show when to speak when you are not in Duplex mode.
Gary: Once you answer, a second video window pops up and you can begin having a conversation.
The only problem I had was no sound at first. This was because, like so many Mac programs that access your sound input info, you can't change your sound input until you quit the app. This took me a few minutes before I snapped to. Fortunately ClearPhone can use just about any microphone it can detect.
Randy: Once we figured out our individual input problems that were no fault of ClearPhone, we were on our way.
Gary: Yeah, immediately, I was offended by Randy's ugly mug infesting my desktop. But at least it saved me a few bucks, even if we weren't more efficient.
Randy: What do you mean, we weren't more efficient?
Gary: Well, there is a delay. I found that we had a tendency to speak over each other until adjusted to the delay, which ranged from nearly nothing to several seconds, depending on Internet traffic. And we both have cable modems.
Randy: It wasn't that bad. Especially considering we did almost no tweaking to the programs generous video and audio compression controls. I'll bet with a little effort we can get it down to no delay. Why you always gotta bitch?
Gary: I'm not bitchin'. Just telling it like it is. It was very cool being able to videoconference over the Internet, especially with three and four people at a time, but you must admit for mission critical business, I still use the telephone. It's not the killer app that it could be yet, but I do feel that it will be soon.
Randy: I'll bet if we both had some of those cool headset earphones and microphones the full duplex calling feature would have worked much better. We found that while ClearPhone works with any old mike and speaker setup, the quality drastically improves with the use of a headset. I used the one that came with my copy of ViaVoice and it worked great.
Gary: Besides being an easy to use video conferencing program, ClearPhone allows you to transfer files to the people you are talking to, send email, launch web pages, watch streaming QuickTime channels and share a white board space with your group.
Randy: Plus you can record your QuickTime video as a movie and use it with all kinds of video and voice mail features. Oh and did we mention it supports connections through Hotline?
ClearPhone in action. You can see why Gary didn't feel he was "efficient".
Gary: Clearly you can waste some serious time with ClearPhone, whether you are video conferencing with work colleagues or just hanging with friends across the country ClearPhone is the easiest way we've found to video phone over the web.
Randy: The ClearPhone demo is only a 750k download an you can check it out for 30 days on a trial basis. The full version is US$99.95 for one copy and US$89.95 for additional copies. All you need is a fairly recent Power Mac with QuickTime 4.0 or higher installed, (the Pro version not just the regular free QuickTime), a modem connection or better to the Internet, and a video source. Whether it is a Connectix Quickcam, a USB camera, a standard camcorder or a new DV camcorder.
Gary: You can then immediately be reminded how ugly your friends are.
Wait a minute!
Randy: What's the problem?
Gary: Well, I had my first prototype Munchster in my lunch box. I was going to use ClearPhone to show it to the readers.
Randy: Yes, and .
Gary: Well, I think it got away. I begin to see the point you made earlier in the column.
Randy: I should have never given you that home genetics kit for Christmas. What was I thinking.
Dude, there it goes! It's got the old TV remote stuck to it's little glazed butt.
Gary: Don't worry. Hand me down my coffee. I got a plan.
"Here Mr. Muchster I got some warm coffee for you to swim in."
Randy: Folks, look away, whilst I begin the pummeling on Gary. See you next week.
Gary Randazzo and Randy Soare are the co-founders of IWS Interactive, a New York based game developer for Macintosh. The IWS in IWS Interactive stands for Idiots With Sticks. How that came about is a long and boring story, but suffice it to say that at four in the morning, it seemed like a good idea.
The demo for IWS Interactive's upcoming mystery-adventure game, Manhattan Apartment Hunter, has recently been released to rave reviews. The Idiots have been into gaming on Apple computers even before the Mac was around. Does anyone remember Choplifter on the Apple IIe? (Boy, we know we do.) Now, they are committed to help ensure that the Mac remains the premiere gaming platform on the planet.
You can email your comment and suggestions to Randy at , and Gary at .