4 Tools for High-Def Video Conferencing
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.
Based in Portland, Ore., John Patrick Pullen covers travel, business and tech for Men's Journal, Fortune and others.