Video Conference Tutorial for Apple iChat
Video conferencing is easy to use once it is set up correctly. With the right equipment video and audio quality are surprisingly good. This video conferencing tutorial will show you how to set up iChat AV to allow you to audio or video conference with a Mac or PC.
Included are step-by-step instructions for getting a free screen name , downloading free software, installation and use, video conferencing camera recommendations, firewall port settings, VoIP interference tips, and troubleshooting guides. (Solid underlined links open in a new page while dotted underline are within this page or web site.) Information for Windows XP AIM is on my PC AIM setup specific page or my full video conference tutorial.
To video conference you will need either a .Mac member name or an AIM (AOL Instant Messaging network) screen name. Both are free. You do not need to sign-up for AOL to get the screen name for video conferencing. The newly available AIM Triton will not audio or video chat with iChat.
AIM screen name / .Mac member name
Your .Mac member name (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a valid screenname on the AIM network, even if you no longer subscribe to .Mac. (iChat to iChat conferences use the AIM network) You must give out your .Mac member name with the @mac.com on the end.
When you start iChat for the first time a screen comes up asking if you want to get a .Mac name. It signs you up for a 60 day free trial of .Mac and provides a .Mac screen name good for iChat. After 60 days, even if you do not keep .Mac, you can still use this member name for video conferencing.
Mac users can also use a regular AIM screen name. To register for an AIM screen name go to my.screenname.aol.com. Click on then “Create one FREE now" link. Follow the instructions and fill out the information requested. After you register, AIM sends you e-mail, allowing you to confirm your registration request. The screen name is free.
Mac OS X 10.4 makes video conferencing simple and easy. ISight users, see yourself above.
If you are using Apple OS X Panther (10.3) or Tiger (10.4) you have all the software you need for video conferencing: iChat. You only need to connect a camera. Mac users do not need or use AIM to video conference with a PC. Only iChat will allow for video conferencing with the PC version of AIM 5.9.
iChat AV connects directly to a Firewire camera. The best is Apple's state-of-the-art iSight and is the one I use. It features a dual-element noise-canceling microphone, internal video processors, auto focusing, auto exposure F/2.8 lens, a custom-designed, three-part lens consisting of two aspherical elements that focus on a 1/4-inch CCD sensor with 640x480 (VGA) resolution, capturing 30 fps, in an aluminum-alloy exterior. The dual noise canceling mic helps clean up audio you send. See it in action.
iChat AV with iSight allows you to connect with other iChat users at around 20 fps, 640 by 480 pixels and even expand that up to full screen! No other computer-based video conferencing system provides such high quality.
You could also use Firewire cameras from other vendors or your firewire DV camcorder. To use a USB camera with iChat you will need to update to Mac OS X System 10.4.9 via software update or purchase iChatUSBCam. (iChatUSBCam also allows for using other video input sources) While you are there get the bundle, because iGlasses is well worth the price. I use iGlasses for easy color and brightness corrections of my iSight in all lighting conditions and notice that many who contact me could use it too. (see below for another great use of iGlasses.) The same company now offers Conference Recorder for iChat AV which allows you to effortlessly record your sessions.
For a lot of fun try out ChatFX from Script Software. This $20 add-on to iChat "...brings outstanding visual effects to iChat that are practical but also incredibly fun. Kids love seeing the bluescreen and other fun effects. Adults will find it makes video-conferencing a whole lot more entertaining and a lot less intimidating. Spice up your chats and make them more memorable with special effects like those only seen in movies and PhotoShop." Disclosure: Jullian Miller (the guy in the samples on the web page) is a long-time friend and former work associate.
Mac OS X 10.4, which comes with iChat 3, provides even higher picture quality and allows 4-way video conferencing if one of your group has a fast enough Macintosh and connection.
iChat tutorial - start iChat AV. The first time you will be given the opportunity to enter the AIM screen name you got beforehand (see above) or sign up for a .Mac member name. Click Continue to get started and go through the screens.
Once you have entered your account name start iChat and open up the Buddy List (Cmd-1, or Window >> Buddy List.) Check that your camera is on by clicking the green camera next to your name. By design, iChat shows you as a mirrored image (flipped horizontally) in the preview window. Adjust as needed by clicking on Preferences.
On the bottom left corner of the Buddy List is a plus sign: click on the plus sign to add a new buddy. From the screen that appears select New Person. On the next screen that appears fill in >>> Account Type: AIM or .Mac , and Account Name: (fill in the AIM screen name or .mac member name). The person's screen name will appear in your buddy list, along with their current status.
To initiate a video conference double click on the camera icon next to their name and you will send out an invitation. Once they accept the invitation and everything connects your camera will be in a small picture inside their picture. You can drag to re-size either picture.
To receive a video conference click anywhere on the small window that announces the invitation.
The video screen will show your camera (so you can adjust your hair) with three buttons on the bottom.
Click on the Accept and, once connected, the invitee will appear in the main screen with your camera in a smaller screen inside.
Go Full screen - If you are connected to another Mac user with an iSight then for a real treat click on the button to go full screen. Prepared to be "Wowed"
To disconnect just close the video window by pressing the red button in the top left.
Typically, iChat AV users connect between 150 to 350 kpbs at up to 20 fps. iChat AV can connect using your full upload bandwidth, up to 2000 kpbs. If your connection is a bit on the slow side you may need to set the Bandwidth Limit (iChat >> Preferences >> Video) to a lower setting.
iChat 3 multi-video or multi-audio conferencing. If you have a fast enough computer (G5 or dual 1Gig G4) you can initiate a multi-video conference. In your buddy list Command-Click (hold down the 'Apple' key and click) on each buddy you want to invite. (up to three) They must have a multi-camera icon next to their name. Then click the camera icon at the bottom of the Buddy List. All will be connected one at a time. PCs with AIM cannot initiate or participate in a multi-video conference. Upgrade here.
For multi-audio chat the same procedure applies only this time you can invite up to nine others and you click on the audio icon at the bottom of the Buddy List. You can invite people to a audio chat once a chat is in session. The cool thing about multi-audio chat is you can see who is talking at any given time. The clarity is fantastic!
To send an SMS message to a cell phone start a new chat, enter the phone number with a plus sign in front of it, (+12345551212) type and send your message. Or place the phone number into your buddy list as a screen name.
iChat troubleshooting: Most issues with iChat AV revolve around trying to connect aUSB camera without updating to Sytem 10.4.9 (see above), firewall ports (see below), Vonage, Lingo or other VoIP interference (see below), or trying to video conference with a PC user who is using the wrong version of AIM or has not opened up video conferencing ports after upgrading to SP2. (see below) A few specific iChat/iSight issues are mentioned here. A few specific iChat/iSight issues are mentioned here. More info on iChat can be found on this page and Apple's iChat forum is also helpful.
New buddy not showing online: If after creating a new buddy they do not show up as online (grayed out icons) but you know they are online just Log Out of AIM then Log Into AIM. Find those menu items in the upper left hand iChat menu or just type Command - L (Apple-L).
iSight - no audio out: iChat can select from any audio-in source you have. So, if you can't be heard, but can be seen, change the audio source in iChat's video preferences. Some have reported that from time to time the microphone in their iSight is no longer recognized and that they must unplug and plug back in the iSight. Before doing so, change to a different audio source in iChat preferences (not the system's Sound preference) then change back to iSight mic. I've seen that work on many occasions.
iSight - no camera: If you cannot see yourself in your camera preview, even though your iSight is plugged in, here is what to do. Quit iChat. Close the lens cover. Unplug your iSight. Re-connect the iSight to the firewire cable. Then open the lens cover. If your iSight has been "recognized" by your Mac then it will begin iChat. If iChat does not start up then make sure your iChat preferences are set to auto start. (iChat >> Preferences >> Video >> Automatically open iChat when camera is turned on) If they are OK, then try to restart your computer when the lens cover closed. Try again to start up iChat by opening the lens cap. Still not working: remove other items from the built-in Firewire port or try a different firewire cable.
Can not initiate video conference with AIM: If you cannot initiate a video conference with an AIM user yet they can initiate one with you look at their buddy name. Does it have a space or an uppercase character? There's the problem. If you have iChat 3.1.0 the solution is to update iChat. (Click Software Update... in the Apple menu) Versions higher than 3.1.1 specifically allowed iChat to initiate a video conference with an AOL Messenger (AIM) for Windows user whose name include spaces or uppercase characters.
You did not respond error message: What? Of course I responded... I clicked the Accept button. Then why does iChat give an error message stating that I did not respond? Simple answer: firewall ports. You most likely got this error message when trying to video conference with a PC user who did not go through all the steps listed in the XP internal firewall settings sections. Tell them that turning off the internal firewall is often not enough... go through the entire process listed for best results. If you then still get this error message start looking at other places (your router, ISP or corporate network) that could be blocking the ports listed below. Also, the version of iChat that comes with 10.4.3 upgrade (free from Apple) fixes this issue in some instances so first upgrade your system.
No data received for last 10 seconds: Normally this would be caused by non-opened firewall ports. However, if you are trying to chat with someone using AIM on a PC then it could be an issue with iChat 3. Run software update (Apple menu >> Software Update...) to get 10.4.3 and iChat AV 3.1(v417) or higher. It has a few fixes that are suppose to remove that problem. Still getting the error message then move on the the firewall port section.
OS X 10.4 Tiger? Remove Virex now: If after upgrading to iChat 3 you can no longer video conference or you notice that your video conferencing has gone down to 1 frame per second remove Virex (an "anti-virus" software) and all files associated with Virex. Use the Virex Uninstaller that came with it. The current version is not compatible with OS X 10.4. (see more here) There are no computer viruses that affect Mac OS X. Not one. Macs are impossible to crack with any of the 90,000+ Windows viruses. So, go ahead and erase that bad boy.
Insufficient bandwidth after Tiger upgrade: The update to iChat 3 included with Mac OS X 10.4.3 fixes this problem for many users. So, if you are getting this error message first update iChat, then read more for the full story.
iChat AV 3.0 adds support for more consistent audio and video (AV) chat quality using Quality of Service (QoS) technology. Specifically, it added DSCP support for SIP, RTP/RTCP UDP packets: SIP = AF31, Audio = EF, Video = AF41, RTCP = AF4. So... if your ISP has improperly programmed routers that block DSCP QoS technology you may find that you can no longer video chat after upgrading to Tiger and iChat 3. The error message "Insufficient bandwidth" suddenly shows up. Comcast had/has this 'feature' in some of their coverage area. The Internet Engineering Task Force adopted DSCP over 7 years ago so aberrant Internet router programming appears to be the result of human error, not policy by Comcast or other ISPs.
The version of iChat that came with 10.4.2 eliminated DSCP Quality of Service marking of packets and allowed most, but not all, to find relief. iChat 3.1 with 10.4.3 helps even more under these situations. Update today.
iChat 2 will still work for video conferencing as it doesn't use the DSCP QoS technology. See this Apple page for more information.
Cannot connect using wireless: Half the people who now contact me with connection problems are using a wireless router. I am using a wireless router on our network but since it is an Apple Airport it "just works" with no fuss. Other wireless routers may have to be set up so the router to modem section is not blocking video conference ports AND the wireless to computer section is not blocking video conferencing ports.
The easiest way to tell if it is your wireless router to computer section is causing the problem is to temporarily bypass it by plugging in your computer to the wired part of your network. Then if it works you know you have a firewall port issue with the wireless connection.
Not working after Tiger upgrade: If you are experiencing a variety of problems with iChat 3 after upgrading to Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger the next thing to try is trashing the iChat preference file. Preference files are text files the system use to know how you like a particular program set up. Every Mac program has one and many irregularities can be solved by trashing them. Don't worry, the program will create a clean copy the next time you launch that program.
You can find the preference file for iChat 3 in Home Folder (the name of your user/ little 'home' icon on the left in the Finder) >> Library >> Preferences >> com.apple.iChat.plist Quit iChat, drag that file to the trash, then restart iChat. Doing that after upgrading solved all my problems. There are three other iChat specific preference files that can be trashed if problems persist.
Camcorders not connecting: If after upgrading to Tiger you find your camcorder can no longer connect to iChat (you get the "camera in use by another application" error message) try re-installing QuickTime 7. It is easy to do and has helped many with the same problem. Download a clean version from www.apple.com/quicktime.
Still not working: If after everything above you still cannot video conference then it is time to isolate the problem. Move your computer off of the router and plug it directly into your modem. Move it to another location and try from there as some ISPs have old routers that block video conferencing.
Here are a few recommendations and an easy way of purchasing the recommended items through Amazon.com. I base these recommendations on 100s of different video conferences the past two years, 20 years experience using, teaching and developing on many computer platforms, and the firm belief that quality pays for itself in the short and long run. MVLDesign.com is an Amazon associate and using the below links to purchase from Amazon helps support this tutorial.
Camera for Mac - OK-ish: Creative Labs Webcam Live! Pro USB 2.0 WebCam and FlexStand. Many people recommend the Logitech QuickCam Pro 4000 as it has automatic face-tracking. But it uses the slower USB 1.1 and the face tracking doesn't really work that well (turn that 'feature' off if you get that camera.) The Logitech QuickCam Orbit is a little newer, can use USB 2.0 (though not Hi-Speed) and has had good reviews.
The Logitech QuickCam Pro for Notebooks is OK to use for portables. The Logitech QuickCam Fusion is much better and connects at USB 2.0 Hi-Speed. You will need to get iChatUSBCam to get any of these web cams to work with iChat. Quality will be Ok-ish.
Camera for Mac - best: Apple iSight. The quality is so great you won't regret it. Trust me. I purchased the iSight the moment it became available in '03. Though it was and is more expensive than any web cam on the market the video quality is significantly better. The novelty of video conferencing wears off after a few times and only a high quality experience will make you want to continue. Get an iSight for yourself and family and you'll enjoy the video conferencing experience so much more. Someday everyone will be able to receive high quality video. Get ready now with an Apple iSight. It is one of the best accessories I've ever purchased.
Software for Macintosh: iChat 3 comes with Mac OS X 10.4.
System for Home: If you have a keyborad and monitor you like then get a Apple Mac Mini with Intel Core Duo, an Apple iSight camera and The Mac OS X Tiger Book. If you need an entire computer system get the 17 inch Apple iMac Core Duo. Want somehing a bit cheaper get the Mac Mini with Intel Core Duo.
System for Grandparents: Take my advise and you will get a computer that is simple to set up, easy to use and provide stunningly clear video conferencing to best see your children and grandchildren (life-size and very-clear if they have a good Mac). You'll be able to initiate multi-video conferences. With this you will get the best computer software for video conferencing, editing video, sorting photos, making DVDs, reading email, safely surfing the Internet, listening to music, watching movies and more. Plus no chance of malware, spyware or automatically installed Windows viruses. Don't waste time, get the following: Apple iMac Core Duo with a 17 inch screen which comes with the iSight built-in.
(optional - 20 inch screen iMac or 24 inch screen iMac, both with iSight built-in)
I recently took my own advise, clicked on the above link, and ordered this system and book for a family member. Squeals of joy and many thank you's every day. Definitely a gold-star, multiple-point generating, well-received gift. :-)
I am not the only one recommending the Apple iMac, here is another comment - "To put it simply: No desktop offered by Dell or Hewlett-Packard or Sony or Gateway can match the iMac's combination of power, elegance, simplicity, ease of use, built-in software, stability and security. From setup to performing the most intense tasks, it's a pleasure to use." full review "The bottom line: Apple's iMac, with its new Intel processor, is still the gold standard of consumer desktop PCs. And it stands to get better over time." full review
Walt Mossberg, The Wall Street Journal, Nov 30th & Jan 18
System for Back to School: with an Intel Core Duo processor and built-in iSight camera and remote this is the best for running iTunes, video conferencing with the family back home and getting school work done: Apple MacBook.
System for Traveling: with an Intel Core Duo processor and built-in iSight camera and remote and much more this is the finest portable computer ever: Apple MacBook Pro.
System for Someone Special: Blow someone's mind. Get 'em this: Apple Cinema 30" HD Flat-Panel Display, the new Mac Pro - The fastest, most powerful, most configurable Mac ever, Apple iSight camera with iGlasses, and the book Mac OS X Tiger Unleashed.
Firewall port issues and router set up
The main roadblock to video conferencing with a PC is firewall or network router ports not opened, disallowing the video information to get through. Although you may not realize it, firewall software may be used by your Internet Service Provider, your company, your operating system or even in the hardware in your home that connects you to the Internet. If you have a home network or broadband router, there is likely a firewall built into it. If you are trying to connect to a Windows user who has upgraded XP to Service Pack Two then they need to open up the internal firewall and change other settings before doing anything else. It's not easy but nothing on a PC really is. :-)
Mac OS X internal firewall: Mac OS X has a built-in firewall. Some people, especially those used to running Windows, feel it is necessary to have it turned on. Whatever makes you feel comfortable is best but I do not have my internal OS X firewall turned on. Nor do I have the firewall in my router turned on yet I feel and am total secure.
System 10.3 (iChat 2) and Mac OS X 10.4 (iChat3) have slightly different internal firewall port setup screens. The settings for both are simple.
Mac OS X 10.3: To chat with the Mac OS X Firewall active, follow these steps to add the necessary ports to the list of open ports: Open System Preferences > Sharing > Firewall > New. From the Port Name pop-up menu, choose Other. In the Port Number, Range or Series field, type in: 5060, 5190, 5297, 5298 In the Description field type in: iChat AV Click OK.
Mac OS X 10.4: For Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger you can specify TCP and UPD ports separately. The Firewall is in the same place but after selecting the New button select Other from the pull-down menu. TCP ports: 5190, UDP ports 5060, 5190, 5678, 16384-16403. Give the entry a name like iChat and click OK.
Please note: I turned my firewall on for iChat just to take this screen shot. I do not have my internal OS X firewall turned on. If you have gone ahead and opened your firewall ports for Mac OS X and you want to see something 'funny', go to my PC page as see what a Windows user has to go through to do the same thing. :-)
External firewall / router settings: Click on the image on the right to see a typical Linksys router setting for opening the ports that iChat and AIM uses. For a more complete description see the page on Apple's web site Using iChat AV with a firewall or NAT router or the page that shows each port and what it does. If you want the short version: open ports 5060, 5353, 5678, 16384-16403 for UDP and 5190, 5297, 5298 for both UPD and TCP. D-Link router set up.
Once you have manually opened the correct ports (if you actually need to) video conferencing is quick and easy. Please note: I have my system behind the above pictured Linksys router and do not have any ports "opened" (even though the photo indicates I do) and have no problems connecting to PCs with AIM or Macs with iChat AV.
The AIM web site states that if either you, or the person you want to video conference with are behind a firewall and are having problems getting it to opera18 August, 2008any's system administrator or modify your firewall software yourself to open ports 1024 through 5000." Though opening all those ports seems excessive it is what AIM suggests so is mentioned here for completeness. Also, I don't understand why they say to open only those ports as the 16384 and 16385 are the two most likely to be used for audio and video.
If opening local router ports does not help move the equipment to another location to see if you can then connect. If so, then there is a firewall or other hardware device blocking access at the original location. Some universities regularly block access to video conference ports.
My current home network settings: Currently I am using the following as my home network to connect for video conferencing and VoIP telephone. Cox Cable Modem >> Apple Airport >> Linksys Ethernet Hub (model NH1005) >> PowerMac G4 / Windows PC / Lingo VoIP / Vonage VoIP. An iMac G5 with built-in iSight camera is connected via wireless through the Apple Airport and a USB printer is connected to the Airport USB port. ZERO firewall port set-up was involved and I only used the Airport setup wizard to name and secure the wireless access point. I can have all three computers accessing the Internet at the same time, with the two Macs engaging in separate video conferences while both VoIP lines are being used. Even I was impressed how easy it was to set up.
Vonage - One potential conflict with iChat and AIM is Vonage VoIP. Vonage uses the some of the same ports as iChat. (Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) port 5060 could be one.) I have a Vonage box set up in their "alternative method" and it works well.
Previously, I hooked it up in their standard configuration and found that the Vonage box was not good at letting through all the data my computer needs. Even checking email was not reliable. The standard Vonage configuration is Cable modem/DSL >> Vonage >> router >> computer(s).
The alternative way is Cable modem/DSL >> Router >> Mac / Vonage / PC connected to the router. The downside to this method is that the Vonage box can't "steal" bandwidth to maintain highest audio quality and you cannot use your browser to change settings. The good news is I hadn't noticed conflicts in over a year and a half.
First I got a D-Link DVG-1402S/L with Lingo VoIP. I tried to set up the router and open ports using their standard configuration. Only after ALL firewall ports were opened did video conferencing work well. However, once the phone is picked up the D-Link router stole almost all the bandwidth for the phone call and to top it off still gave terrible sound quality and an echo. Avoid the DGV-1402.
Next I got a regular Lingo box and set it up in the "alternative method". That is Cable modem (or DSL) >> Router >> Mac / Lingo box / PC connected to the Linksys router. Peace at last. Sounds great and I can video conference at full speed. Unlimited calls to Western Europe!
I ran a few test to see if the Lingo box could be set up in the normal method and still video conference. I opened ports in Ports Forwarding, turned on DMZ and limited the IP Pool (so the connected computer had a known IP address) and I achieved limited success. Not good enough for day to day use so I went back to the alternative set-up method.
Web Conferencing Camera set up
I have received many comments about how natural I look while video conferencing. It is as if I am looking right into the camera while chatting. No, I did not drill a hole in my LDC monitor to get the camera at eye level. It is all a matter of careful camera placement.
Get the camera lens as close to the top edge of the monitor as physically possible. Place the video conferencing window just below it. Then you can look your camera, and the person you're chatting with, right in the eye.
I have a few tricks I use that brings that camera right to the edge of my screen. And if I can do it you can too as my monitor's borders are a huge 2 inches wide.
My iSight video conferencing camera is connected via a SightFlex, which is a small gooseneck Firewire cable with a weighted stand. The weighted stand sits right on top of the middle leg of my original Apple 20 inch LDC Cinema Display. Then the gooseneck with the iSight camera is bent over the top of the monitor and placed upside down. (see photo) This places the camera lens right at the edge of the LCD display. With the back of the camera resting against the front of the display's border everything is stable and wiggle-free. Finally, the Upside Down setting in iGlasses is used to flip the camera output back right side up.
I hope you find this tutorial useful. It was originally written in Winter of '03 and has been continually expanded and refined. Mac specific page was pulled from the original on 13 November '05. (Last update: 18 August, 2008 ) If there is anything you have discovered that I should correct or can add please let me knowby emailing me at email@example.com. Thanks!
Finally, if you want the very best video conferencing experience then get an Apple iMac running iChat 3 with an iSight already built-in. It will be easy to set up, you'll never have to deal with spyware, adware, worms, malware, Trojan horses, email viruses or, to a great extent, email spam and your Word, Excel and Power Point files will still be compatible; you'll save time (= money) in the long run. You'll never know how hard it is to use Windows until you get a Mac. Heck... look how much attention to detail and ease-of-use Apple puts into a simple music player with the Apple iPod—their computers are even better. And Mac OS X is even better than the hardware, see more here. Included software for managing your digital life is first-rate, integrated and beyond anything you will see for XP. And your video conferencing experience will be much more rewarding at 640x480/20fps. I can't really share the thrill you (or your family) will have when you click the full screen button while video conferencing. Get a Mac and leave 2.5 inch video conferencing behind.
Happy video conferencing!