4 Tools for High-Def Video Conferencing
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Face time still counts when it comes to successful pitches, but these days video conferencing appears so lifelike you'd think you could reach through the screen and shake on a deal. We put together a dream list of digital devices built to improve your image, find your voice and connect you with people across the globe.
Sight to behold
Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 ($100)
Most computers include webcams as a standard feature, but try this USB peripheral once, and you'll never look back. A shot-for-shot comparison between the C920 and our computer's webcam revealed individual eyelashes where there were blurs, crisp color where light had washed out the screen and wide-angle views instead of cropped compositions. The C920's autofocusing Carl Zeiss lens shoots in 720p resolution with most chat services and in even sharper 1080p with Skype.
Biscotti TV Phone ($149)
This camera, shaped like the Italian baked treat, connects to the web via Wi-Fi and plugs into a TV's HDMI port to stream video and audio to other Biscotti camera setups or to Google Talk users--no computer connection needed. When talking to another Biscotti-enabled user, the connection is crisp and fast; Google's service, however, degrades the signal significantly. Perfect for that conference-room TV, this is a great way to connect remote field offices.
Blue Microphones Spark Digital ($200)
Blue Microphones' professional-level acoustics are the showbiz choice (see American Idol), and they'll add a high-quality sheen to your voice, too. Able to connect to any computer through a USB port, the Spark Digital is ideal for recording podcasts or voice-overs, and it adds compelling clarity to videoconferencing sessions, breathing life and emotion into otherwise flat sound. Cool feature: A push-button focus control blocks out background noise.
As users of Apple's FaceTime know, it's hard to hold an iPhone (or other webcam) so that a moving subject stays in the picture. Mount said iPhone or camera on a Swivl, though, and it'll follow your every word, automatically shifting to keep you centered in the shot. It works by tracking the remote control and mic clipped on your shirt--perfect for on-the-move or multitasking chatters, and for shooting presentations without a cameraman.
The best ways to connect
One-on-one. Skype offers the best clarity, stability and dependability for a two-person video chat. A variety of connection options (from phones to Facebook) means Skype is one service everyone should join.
Groups. The "Hangouts" feature on the Google+ social network is arguably the web's easiest option for group video chats. With screen-sharing and shared-document editing, it's a pro-level tool available at everyone's favorite price: free.
Mobile. Apple's FaceTime is still the best bet for conferencing via mobile. That said, less than 50 percent of smartphone users have iPhones, and the service is available only over Wi-Fi. Skype's mobile app is a workable alternative.