So there I was, trying to write a blog entry on the SuperCool™ feature set we call Voice and Video because I think it is neat and spiffy, when a thought occurred to me – and yes, a thought does occur to me now and again!! 😛 My officemate HAPPENS to be one of the testers for the features, so I thought, "Hey! He should write the blog!!" And so, I give you my officemate….. Heeeeeeeeeeeere’s Raghu!
See me, hear me.
Over the past few years, the Windows Live Messenger client has evolved from being a little IM app to one with so many exciting features, that it’s impossible to describe every one of them in a single blog post. One of Messenger’s core feature sets that I’m going to describe in this post involves two Vs – Voice and Video.
But first, here’s a little story. It’s about my grandfather, who lives half way around the planet from where I am. Making conversation with him can be both interesting and challenging… interesting because he is a retired professor and has a lot to say about everything, and challenging because he has been hard of hearing since he was in his late 20s. When he talks to someone, he absolutely insists that they face him while speaking, because he catches some of their words by ear, and lip reads the rest. He’s learnt to listen with both his ears and his eyes.
The man recently turned 90, and I thought of calling him to wish him well on his birthday. That wouldn’t have been such a good idea though, because he finds it very difficult to hear anything over the phone. But hey! What if I used the video call feature in Windows Live Messenger to talk to him?
The day arrived, and a laptop had been set up for him. We fired up a video call window, and my webcam image was blown up to full screen on his laptop. He had a nice set of headphones, with the volume set to a comfortable level.
Now that I think about it, that video call was the first time in years that I had a long distance conversation with my granddad where he actually heard and understood me. For those few minutes, it sure felt like he wasn’t deaf… Windows Live Messenger had given him ears.
So where were we? Oh… Voice and Video.
Messenger Voice and Video comprises of a bunch of features, that all involve seeing and hearing your buddies. Most everyone knows that you can send your webcam to your buddies, but these features go even further. They are:
- Voice clip
- Computer call
- PC-Phone call
- Video call
If you’ve used messenger for a while (you have, right?!), but have used it primarily for text chatting, you probably want to start by setting up your sound and video devices. Messenger has built into it, a tool that helps you setup your speakers, microphone and webcam. We fondly refer to it as the “tuning wizard” (‘cause that’s what it used to be called back in the day).
To launch the tuning wizard, click “Tools -> Audio and Video Setup”. You’ll see the above dialog pop up. Click “next”, and in each of the following 3 steps, select your preferred speakers, microphone and webcam and set the sound levels to the optimum level. For example, if you have a sound card and speakers on your PC, and also have a USB headset plugged in, you could set the sound card as your default windows sound device (for all your windows sounds), while you could use the USB headset when you make a voice or a video call on Messenger.
Note: In the first step, the little checkbox that says “Click here if you are using headphones” is used to a turn a feature called “echo cancellation” on or off. If you’re using speakers, there’s a chance that your buddy’s voice will get rerouted back to him/her through your microphone, and that can sound ugly. So messenger can detect the sound going into the microphone and cancel the echo, so all that your buddy hears is your own sweet voice.
This is kind of like using Messenger as a walkie-talkie. You press a button (and hold it pressed), speak, and release the button. Voila, your voice is recorded and sent across the wire and your buddy hears it a few seconds later. The screenshot below shows where the voice clip button is located in the conversation window. If you’re not a mouse person, the F2 key will work just like the voice clip button. This feature is particularly useful in 2 cases:
- If you’re chatting with multiple buddies at a time and want to send short voice messages to more than one of them, this is a really nifty feature to use.
- If you have a buddy who’s away and want to leave a quick voice message, simply send a voice clip, that your buddy can listen to when he/she returns, even if you have logged off by then.
In the conversation window, there’s a nice big button at the top that looks like an old-school telephone receiver. Click on it, and here’s what you might see:
Let’s start with the “Call Computer” option. If you click on it and your buddy’s PC has a microphone and speakers, he/she will hear a ring-ring sound, just like a real phone, and once your buddy answers your call, you can speak to each other just like it’s a telephone, except the sound quality is closer to CD quality than telephone quality. With this feature, you can answer, reject and hang up calls just like with a real phone. Oh, and did I mention this is a free call that you can make to any Messenger User around the world? 🙂
If you click on any of the other options under the “Call” button menu (call home / call mobile / call work / call a phone), the Windows Live Call phone dialer will be launched. If you have your buddy’s phone numbers saved in your address book, they’re readily available in messenger for you to call. Simply click on any of those numbers to be connected to your buddy’s phone. There are more ways in which you can access this feature – through right clicking your buddy, or by clicking “Actions -> Call -> Call a phone” from the main window or conversation window.
Note: This is a paid service, for which you can sign up by launching the dialer and clicking the sign up link. PC-Phone service is provided by Verizon in the US, and other partner companies elsewhere in the world.
And finally, the granddaddy of the Voice and Video features (no pun intended on the first part of this blog :)). Next to the phone icon in the conversation window is a Video call button. This works just like computer call, except this time, you can both see and hear your buddy. Cool no? And guess what? It’s free too!
There, you’ve read about so many cool new things you can do with Messenger. Now go try them out!
Thanks, Raghu! Voice and Video rocks!
And a quick note before I sign off for today – if you want to read more on Voice calls, Ali did a SuperCool™ post on webcams and video calls for the holidays if you want to revisit and take a quick peek. =)
–Wendy the Mighty