Real World Ubiquitous Computing – Skype Video Calls

There are few people who would count Skype as ubiquitous computing.  However I’ve found it is not the technology that defines ubiquitous computing, but how it is applied.

Since I moved to the US I’ve really enjoyed having a Skype phone as my main phone at home.  It has been incredibly cheap, and obviated any of the hassles involved with a regular land line (such as installation and the fact you can only make/receive calls in one place!).  However lately I’ve been enjoying Skype video calls.  The last few weeks I have combined Skype with streaming video to watch the game played in heaven, rugby union, with my friends back home.

First I used my Dell M1330 which has a built-in microphone and webcam.  I picked up this laptop for a measly $530 from Dell on sale which was an amazing deal.  Next I used my Mac Mini hooked up to my HDTV to stream the game.  I paid $4.99 to watch the game live from www.mediazone.com and then used VMWare Fusion to allow me to watch the DRMed file using Windows Media Player on OS X.

Minor points that made this experience really great:

  • The fullscreen high def video through Skype was excellent quality and not at all choppy.  When the camera was turned towards the game I could see the play perfectly, albeit at 5 frames per second.
  • Skype have really improved their echo cancellation technology in the last few releases.  Using the “speaker phone” mode of Skype was great as it was like a virtual conference call.
  • Foxtel IQ on my brother’s end allowed him to pause the game enough to get it perfectly in sync, again contributing to the feeling I was there
  • Wireless laptops meant the camera could get moved around, and I was able to have individual conversations with people in the room.  If only I had been hooked up via ConnectR… but it was a good approximation

The other great use of Skype video calling was the ability to play Rock Band more collaboratively (the game lacks any method to interact with the other players, not even voice within the game menus!).  Sadly the experience there wasn’t as immersive as there is always a 1 second delay on the audio which is quite distracting.  Otherwise, the future is here!  Who knew when video calling came it would be completely free (aside from equipment)…