Audio and Video with iChat
Mac Tip #279/07-March-2007
While Instant Messaging chat works well by typing messages, that’s not the only way to use it. Depending on your computer hardware and your Internet connection you may also chat by voice, using only audio, or with both audio and video.
Typing works well for people on slow or dubious Internet connections, and of course in public places such as Internet cafes, libraries or open-plan offices. It’s also good for very quick messages, or conversations where both parties are also doing other things such as checking emails, feeding the puppies or working on a document.
For example, in 2006 Maria Langer and I co-wrote a book called WordPress 2: Visual Quickstart Guide. Maria lives in Arizona and I’m in Wellington. We have never met. Several times we chatted, by text or by video, either to quickly clarify points about the book, or just to get better acquainted. Chat is an invaluable work tool, as well as a great social activity.
If you have a broadband Internet connection, and you have both a microphone and speakers in your computer (or a way to plug them in), then an audio or video chat could be a good choice.
Most recent Macs include both a built-in microphone (even if you can’t see it) and speakers, and many include an iSight camera.
Start up iChat and make sure your Buddy List is visible (Window menu). Set your Status to Available (as explained in Chat with iChat), and you should see a list of online Buddies.
If a buddy has a telephone icon next to their name, then you can chat with them by voice. If they have an icon of a video camera, then you can chat by video.
To initiate an audio chat click on the phone icon, rather than just the person’s name. When you do that a window opens up on your screen letting you know that iChat has called on your Buddy and is “Waiting for reply…”.
Note: the screenshots here represent both sides of audio and video chats.
On your Buddy’s computer a window pops up, inviting them to an audio chat, and also a phone ringing sound alerts them to your call (provided they don’t have their speakers muted).
To respond to a Buddy’s call, click on the Invitation window and choose to respond by text (this starts a text chat session), or click Decline or Accept. If you Decline, your Buddy is told you have declined the chat.
If you Accept, each person sees a small window with a Volume slider and green bars to indicate volume. Now take turns talking.
Click the microphone icon to Mute — for example, you may sneeze or cough and wish to briefly stop transmitting sound.
Once you’ve finished chatting, close the chat window. A message appears that you have “ended the conference”.
Video chatting works in almost exactly the same way, but you need to click on the video camera icon. While chatting, you see your Buddy in a window, with an inset of what they’re seeing (which will probably be you).
The picture here is a little odd, in that I’m chatting with someone who has their camera pointed out the window, rather than at themself. That’s because I was actually chatting with the Mac that hosts my webcam, operating it by remote control.
There’s more you can do with chat, such as having multi-person conferences, but these Tips should be enough to get you started. From here, explore the menus and most of all, have fun chatting with friends, family and colleagues.