Archive for March, 2006
"… so basically you can now transmit video images from your webcam while you’re having a voice call with multiple people, while you’re text chatting with somebody and even when you’re not engaged in any Skype activity altogether. Read that again."
My Skype buddy list is a nice example of unscientific, experiential evidence that the Skype installed userbase is growing exponentially. Not only did several of my existing MSN, AIM and Yahoo! buddies recently sign up for a Skype account, but I’m also rediscovering dear old friends and adding new connections daily. Some of these new connections originate from my recent decision to become a member of the social business networks Ecademy, LinkedIn and OpenBC, other new connections are with software vendors and geeks—of course it’s not surprising these people embrace Skype’s sheer unbeatable offering. Skype has become even more popular thanks to over a hundred priceless plugins of diverse origin and functionality scope. Browse the Skype Extras Gallery to see which plugins have the most page views.
A new submission to the Skype gallery literally caught my eye a few days ago and it hasn’t let go of it since then: AvaCon for Skype.
Take a peek preview at their site:
The executive summary on AvaCon for Skype is this: AvaCon for Skype sends a live stream of frequent snapshots from your webcam and displays this stream in the so-called avatar frame—the picture frame that is part of your Skype profile. So basically you can now transmit video images from your webcam while you’re having a voice call with multiple people, while you’re chatting with somebody and even when you’re not engaged in any Skype activity altogether. Read that again.
Imagine what you can do with AvaCon for Skype right now:
- set up a two-way or multi-party video+audio conference call in Skype
- broadcast your live picture stream while having a Skype text chat conversation (again with multiple people if you want)
- let any of your buddies keep an eye on your house, your nanny, your cat’s food supply or… you!
Speaking from my own experience, I noticed my text chat conversations became a lot livelier since I installed AvaCon for Skype. People could tell whether or not I was in a good mood, my facial expressions and my hand movements were perfectly in synch with my text messages and over all most people were very surprised and delighted to see me while chatting. I received some envious inquiries too, from folks who were wondering how I had tweaked Skype to make it transmit video in this way. Others didn’t even realize that something had changed about my setup. Lots of chuckles on both ends of course. So, if you’d decide to install AvaCon for Skype, here’s how you configure it:
The AvaCon for Skype Options dialog box is quite straightforward with just two major sections: Video and Avatar. Most settings are clearly explained in the info sections to the right of each option.
The Active Calls Only option immediately terminates the live
picture stream after the active voice call is finished.
Video options: of course you can disable video completely—note that double clicking on the system tray icon has the same toggle-switch-type effect. You can fine-tune your webcam settings as with most video conferencing.systems. By default AvaCon for Skype writes the captured images to your hard drive. You can also use a RAM drive—a section of your computer memory that acts like it’s a hard drive, but then without the read/write delays. The registered version of AvaCon for Skype ($9.95) comes with a free RAM disk driver. Frame rates are supported from one refresh per 60 seconds up to one refresh per second (that’s the fastest).
Avatar options: you can use AvaCon for Skype to quickly take a snapshot picture of yourself or of anything else and use that as your default picture when the plugin is disabled.
Several concerns were raised about Avacon for Skype’s potentially weak privacy scheme
toward the broadcaster (you don’t want to accidentally forget to switch off your webcam when your lover enters your office, do you?). Some people may be concerned about bandwidth issues for the receiving
party as well. I decided it was time for a call to San Diego. So, last night I had an inspiring talk with the inventor of AvaCon for Skype: George Miles of Inventeering. It’s impossible (and probably utterly boring) to list every single topic that we discussed, but the most interesting one was "What’s in the pipeline for near-future releases of AvaCon?"
Here’s a list of additional features that you can expect short-term:
- as a broadcaster, decide to which contacts you send your live picture stream (by group, by their online status, in voice calls or text chat sessions or both)
- as a broadcaster, decide from which of your own online status modes your live picture stream is broadcast
- as a broadcaster, limit your live picture stream to active chats only
- as a receiver, decide from whom you’d like to receive their live picture stream
- quick-mute the live picture stream through a configurable global keyboard shortcut
My recommendation: if you’re a Skype user and you own a webcam, I strongly suggest that you give AvaCon for Skype a whirl. The image quality is excellent and with Skype’s own video conferencing being a far ship on the horizon, AvaCon for Skype is a cheap and attractive solution that’s very easy to install.
Platform compatibility: AvaCon for Skype currently runs on desktop PCs running Windows only. Contact Inventeering, Inc. if you or someone you know would have the skills and the time to produce a Mac OSX or Linux version.
Direct download link: try AvaCon for Skype (15-days)
Pricing: $9.95 (order page)