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June 24, 2011 / davebirss

Frustrated by a glimmer of hope

Sometime’s I’m really impressed with technology. And sometimes I’m bitterly disappointed at how astoundingly shit it is. And video-conferencing is my big disappointment of the moment.

I’ve recently started to pick up work in New York. And seeing as 3471 miles is a larger-than-acceptable commute, I’ve been trying to find a way to do it over the wonders of the internet. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. I was doing it last year between London and Dublin. I had a two computer setup on their end and a three computer setup on mine – and a wonderful, talented tech guy who helped me sort it all out. It worked beautifully.

This is what I needed:

  • To have confidence in them seeing exactly what I’m seeing
  • To be able to stream some video at an acceptable standard.
  • For them to see me and me to see them
  • For them to be able to hear me clearly (I use a broadcast microphone to make that better)

Surely not too much to ask in this day and age.

But I’ve had to change the way I’ve been doing it. Now that I’m working with a large company with a very guarded IT policy, I had to find a one-stop solution. They suggested WebEx.

WebEx is a nice idea badly executed

I’ve used WebEx before. And never liked it. It’s one of those pieces of software that you have to learn. It’s got some pretty pwerful stuff for letting people feedback while you’re talking – and for seeing who’s attending – and for giving people the option to call in by phone or connect via their computer. But all this stuff makes it ugly to use and overly complex. And I don’t need any of it. It doesn’t give an attractive full-screen option (or not that I found anyway). And it certainly doesn’t let you do smooth video streaming.

So I discounted it. And I discounted a load of other options that were kind of similar.

iChat was everything I was looking for

So after looking at lots of other options, I realised that iChat did exactly what I wanted. It was on my Mac and it was free. Get in!

So I tested it out.

It looks awesome. Just look at this lovely full-screen side-by-side layout. Gorgeous!

It’s a pretty nice experience on the presenter’s end as well.You can see the presentation on your system – and another window that shows what your audience is seeing.

It also streams video really nicely. The experience from the other end wasn’t quite 25fps – but it was infinitely better than WebEx’s chunky, stuttery approach. And all the cinematic transitions worked as well. It was perfectly acceptable for my needs.

And the way it works is just beautiful. You simply drag your file onto the iChat video window and it starts the presentation with a slick shrinky/growy transition. Yum!

There’s just one drawback.

It has a crippling glitch that makes it entirely f***ing unusable.

It would usually kick in around the 7th or 8th slide. When I moved on to the next slide on my machine, the audience’s computer would skip back to the 2nd or 3rd slide and freeze. It may decide to catch up – or it may not. Either way – it disrupted my presentation flow.

Admittedly my presentations are pretty chunky. So I did a version at a lower screen resolution, and removed all the transitions and films. But the same glitch persisted. I tried it on a different Mac. Still the same problem. Apple don’t offer you any real customer support – so the best I could do was post the issue on a support forum. I got one response back with some useful advice – but it still didn’t work.

So I worked out a plan B.

I fired my presentation over to New York – and used iChat to take control of their screen. It wasn’t ideal because they couldn’t see me, I couldn’t see them and I couldn’t really see what the presentation was doing. And the connection was so bad we had to restart it three times in the space of a one hour presentation.

I was deeply embarrassed. And I’m sure it wasn’t a great experience for them either.

Please can you offer me a better solution?

I really want to get something that just works. I’m happy to pay for it. The cost of one piece of software is certainly going to be cheaper than a return transatlantic flight and a couple of nights on Manhattan.

Have you used something that works? Or do you have a tip on how to get iChat working properly? I’m going to go in to the Apple Store this week to see if they can help me. If I find a solution, I’ll tell you.

Meanwhile, I’ll just keep swearing under my breath and doing my best not to pound my fist through the screen of my MacBook.

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