Best Configuration for Hanging out with Friends by Video?

What would you recommend?

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Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, something else? Just talking, or making sure you have a glass of wine in hand, or perhaps talking over a meal? Anything, whether hardware, software, or otherwise, that makes for a better conversation? Is it best one-on-one, or in groups of four or five? Or is it just a matter of choosing the right people? Tell us what you've found.

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  1. In my professional life, I find Zoom has the best audio quality. Like Slack and Discord, it’s hosted by the developer, so having good network transit and peering helps improve the quality of connectivity that users have to the servers.

    Only downside of Zoom in my opinion is there are many countries they disallow connections from due to US Embargo restrictions.

    1. [Edit: meant to phrase that as Zoom has worked hard on establishing good network transit and peering, which means $random_user will have better connectivity to the Zoom servers than Slack or Discord, in my experience.]

      1. Zoom works very well for either 1-on-1 or group meetings, especially where screen sharing is important.
        At MIT we will finish the semester by instruction over Zoom.

  2. Skype for Business is very good (use daily). Zoom is good (use infrequently). My experience has been after 10 people in a virtual room, it gets ‘crowded’. Harder to react to what anyone says because multiple people speak at the same time.

    If you use a laptop and have a docking station, I highly recommend a Jabra conference speaker. They run 70 bucks and are worth every penny. The sound quality is superior, and that matters when you’re on an important conference call. You can get the one with integrated video, but honestly, it jacks up the price.

    A word for the gentlemen. If you have women who are direct reports, tell them at least 1-2 hours in advance you will have video if you intend to use video capabilities! Just trust me on this one. I speak from hard-won experience. That was an interesting lesson to learn. Now, I tell my staff which team meeting will be video a week in advance. 🙂

    Professor Blackman had some great tips in an earlier blog post on using video. The thing with the eyes is something I have not mastered, even though it has been a few years now. Very vexing.

    If you use Microsoft Teams, it seamlessly integrates with Skype. You have added capabilities, or maybe it is more accurate to say that it is easier to use all the capabilities of both programs.

    One special note for the IT guys. Something I noticed. If you use Remote Assist, and you are using checkpoint VPN, it can be a real f’ing hassle to remote intro a use laptop. I don’t know why that is the case, but I have directly observed this on multiple occasions, on both sides (as a user, and observing the help desk technician). Have a backup plan/way to remote into laptops.

    1. For most of the platforms, the user has control over their camera. If the meeting is more than a few people video use should be limited to avoid requiring too much bandwidth

  3. My company uses BlueJeans, which I hadn’t heard of until I started there last April. It is the corporate culture that all meetings are video meetings – “be present, video on…” goes the cultural imperative.

    We are a linux shop, through and through, ‘though some use Macs. I haven’t seen a Windows machine yet. BlueJeans is accessible via any web browser, and there are apps for linux, Windows, Mac OS, Android, and iOS. There’s a gateway for Windows teams, too.We use the google office productivity suite, and BJ is well integrated with google calendar, so meetings scheduled in gcal with a BJ meeting added show up in the BJ app in a timeline-like display.

    None of these video conferencing alternatives are perfect, but BJ is pretty darned good.

    On that, remember when there were at least seven network layer protocols? Now there’s only one worth considering (TCP/IP). I look forward to the day when all videoconferencing systems work together. But I’m not holding my breath.

  4. Addendum:
    The question was, in part, “for hanging out with friends.” BlueJeans requires that someone pay, and the least expensive option is $120/year for up to 50 simultaneous users. “Free” will beat this every time, so Skype, which about a year ago increased its max users to 50, is what I would use with family and friends, if I “hung out” with them via video conference. My personal video conferences are almost always one instance to one instance, usually phones, with multiple participants in the same room on one or both ends. I used Google Duo on my Android phone last time, a week ago. It was the first and only time, so far, I’ve used it. It worked very well, and was apparently free.

    Regarding voice and video quality. I encounter video problems with colleagues who experience bandwidth issues. I encounter audio problems with colleagues who use cheap earbuds, laptop mic and speakers, or who sit in small, highly reverberant rooms. I always use a headset of some kind, and I’ve asked others how my audio quality is, and I’m told it’s good. One I like is a single ear, on-the-ear set with a boom mic, the Willful wireless headset, about $35. The other, for longer meetings, is a JBL Duet NC, wireless, active noise cancelling, over-the-ear headset. These are fabulous, and I paid about less the 1/4 the price of Bose. So, be good to your friends and have good audio quality.

  5. IDK about Zoom, but maybe at some point you can do a post about travel restrictions in the USA, and what the federal govt has the authority to order. I have no doubt that the sign of military checkpoints on interstates to prevent travel is not only unprecedented, but will freak people out to a degree unseen before in this country. On the other hand, I am not sure that the Federal Govt has the authority to do much else than shut down airlines.

    1. Yet police checkpoints are exactly what Italy has in place.

      1. Europe is more familiar with checkpoints. Eastern europe more recently.

        USA did not even have checkpoints during WWII. My guess is the last time we potentially saw that was the civil war (maybe, not sure about that).

        I think Americans would lose their minds at military checkpoints. It’s simply not in our DNA to let the govt tell us where not to go.

  6. My experiences:

    We use Teams at our office and it’s great for one-on-one or large groups.

    We also use WebEx and it has terrible audio quality; but just about everyone has or knows about WebEx so it’s a good default.

    There’s been a push towards using Zoom for client conferences, but I haven’t been happy with it so far. Really, I just don’t want to have to learn yet another UI (WebEx, Skype, Teams, GoToMeeting, etc.)

  7. I’ve used Google Hangouts for years for RPGs. We use a “SoundTech CM-1000 USB” conference mic and have had good luck with it. Sound quality is generally good.

    I would recommend using a camera other than the built-in one in a laptop, as they tend to be used very close to the user and give you very strong perspective aberration and a rather odd angle of view. Instead, an after market camera on a tripod or other support that puts it at about eye level for the user is ideal.

    For multiple people in a single location where each has his or her own camera, a conference mic (with all other microphones muted) and a single set of speakers attached to the same computer as the mic (and all other speakers likewise muted) is ideal to avoid feedback. If you can manage a very wide-angle camera, this can work reasonably well for general conversation with a single computer and mic.

    Our experience has been that one person online with a local group or nearly everyone online with a very limited number local works best. When multiple remote people try to participate in a conversation with a group speaking in person, the remote participants tend to speak over each other and get completely ignored in a way that a single remote person can usually overcome.

    I’ve also used Skype for a similar purpose and wasn’t at all happy with it, but that was years ago, so probably not germane today.

  8. I’m on discord all day every day, but I don’t know if that’s your speed. It’s better if you’re all posting things online too.

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