Being in a different location from family during the holidays no longer means not ‘seeing’ one another. Today there are multiple online video conference programs that are free and available for multiple computer operating systems.
Chatting by video does require a working internet connection and some hardware, however, including a webcam (though this is optional for the services below – i.e. you can still talk to someone, they just won’t be able to see you), microphone, and speakers or earphones.
Fortunately, many laptops today have these three features built in, or there are multiple USB webcams available that one can buy at electronics stores or online for a decent price (i.e. $20-$40), of which many come equipped with a microphone and/or speakers.
Three Free Video Chat/Conference Software Options
Skype offers free Skype-to-Skype calls; that is, any Skype member can chat, call, send files to, or video call another Skype member free-of-charge (so both you and your friend and/or family member will need to have a free Skype account). Skype has been around since 2003, is based out of Luxembourg, and at peak times has up to 23 millions users online worldwide, so chances are one will find multiple family or friends who already have a Skype account.
To use the program, one must download the software from the Skype.com website, and then sign up for a free account – both of these processes are straightforward for both PC (Windows) and Mac users. A Skype user can call multiple contacts for free, but can only video conference with one contact at a time. Skype users can also call land lines and cell phones worldwide for a relatively affordable fee.
Oovoo offers multiple free services, including 2-way video calls, 1-minute video messages, 6-way text chat, and 5MB file sending (all between Oovoo account holders). Oovoo is available for both PCs and Macs (OS X 10.4 or higher), and has a user-friendly download and sign-up process.
Any users that sign up for the free plan will get many premium features for the first 30 days. Any users with free plans, until November, will get 6-way video calls for free (after that they will only be available for trial, pay-per-month, pay-per-use, or business customers).
Camfrog offers free video chat rooms (one-on-one or more) for Camfrog members using both PCs and Macs (OS X 10.4 or higher). A member can join an existing chat room or can host one of their own. Upgrading to Camfrog Pro provides users more video chat, customization, and file send options.
Tips For Video Conferencing
- Make sure you have a good internet connection; a spotty connection can result in video freezes during your conference
- If your microphone does not seem to be working, go into the video chat program’s preferences/configurations and make sure that the correct microphone is chosen (for example, if you have a microphone plugged in via USB, you might need to specify that this is the microphone you would like to use)
- Be in a well-lit room
Enjoy these video chat/conference programs and the free opportunity they provide to spend some quality time with out-of-town friends and relatives.