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Audio/Video Conferencing with iChat AV

by Wei-Meng Lee

Apple has just unveiled iChat AV, the instant messaging software, at the Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC) 2003 in San Francisco. No longer limited to just text exchange, iChat AV now supports multimedia capability -- namely voice and video messaging.

This is certainly good news for Mac users as they can now communicate "face-to-face" with their friends, relatives, and co-workers. And best of all, if you are a road warrior, iChat AV can save you lots of money on expensive overseas calls.

You can download a public beta of iChat AV right now. The temporary license won't expire until the end of the year when the 1.0 release is ready. At that time it will cost $29.95 US for Jaguar users. For Panther users, iChat is included in the price of the system upgrade.

Unlike MSN Messenger, which sometimes encounters problems when you are behind a router that uses NAT (Network Address Translation), iChat AV on Mac OS X does not pose a problem.

The Eyes and Ears of iChat AV

Also announced at WWDC 2003 was iSight, a state-of-the-art video camera with a built-in microphone (see Figure 1). As Steve Jobs aptly puts it, "iSight is the eyes and ears of iChat AV."

Photo of the iSight.
Figure 1. The iSight webcam.

Unlike traditional webcams, which rest on your desk, iSight also comes with a monitor stand (see Figure 2) that allows you to clip iSight onto your screen. The tilt-and-swivel base allows you to adjust iSight so that you are looking directly into the camera. This is one important factor contributing to a successful video conferencing session that so many webcam manufacturers have missed. And with iSight I think Apple has done it right again.

Photo of the monitor stand.
Figure 2. The monitor stand of iSight.

Test-driving iChat AV

I took iChat AV for a spin to see if it lives up to Apple's claim about its state-of-the-art design. For testing purposes, I used an eMac and a 12" PowerBook. One of the nice things about Macintoshes is that they are all multimedia-ready; there's no need to add a microphone or a pair of speakers.

I logged on to my eMac with the user name "Wei Meng Lee" and my PowerBook with "Bernard Lee". Both machines are connected to an 802.11b wireless network, with the eMac equipped with an AirPort card and the PowerBook an AirPort Extreme card.

For this test, I use Rendezvous for chatting (you can also use your dot-mac or AIM account if you want to chat with someone on the Internet). Upon starting iChat AV, I immediately saw the other user on each of my machines (see Figure 3).

Screen shot.
Figure 3. Seeing another user on the network via Rendezvous.

If a user has voice capability, a phone icon will appear next to the user. To initiate a voice call, click on the phone icon (see Figure 4).

Screen shot.
Figure 4. Calling another user.

The other machine will display a message indicating that someone is sending an invitation to chat (see Figure 5).

Screen shot.
Figure 5. Receiving an incoming call.

To answer the call, simply click on the message and click the Accept button (see Figure 6).

Screen shot.
Figure 6. Accepting an incoming call.

You can now start chatting!

Screen shot.
Figure 7. Using iChat for voice calls.

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