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Stories that aired on San Antonio Living

Video Chatting – Easy & Economical Way To Stay Connected

This story appeared on Great Day Houston on March 25, 2009 and on San Antonio Living on January 14, 2009. Click here to watch the segment

Video phones (aka video chatting) are finally here! Now you can have face-to-face conversations in real-time from anywhere in the world (with internet access). Video-chatting uses your computer screen and feels like you’re talking to someone across a desk or table. Familiar uses include chats between business associates, grandparents and grandkids, parents and college kids, and family and a parent who’s away on business.

There are even more ways to use video chatting, such as
-Have family dinners together even when the whole family is spread across the country. Just set the computer on one end of the table and everyone can eat together.
-Share romantic dinners when your spouse is out of town. Just set out the candles, wine, and dinner on either side of the computer and stay connected.
-Birthday parties – put the computer in the middle of the action and everyone can enjoy the party together.The more you do it, the more ideas you’ll come up with for your family and business.
All it takes is a program (free) and some inexpensive equipment – speakers, microphone, webcam and lighting.The Programs

Many video-chat programs are free. Choose the program you want, download it to your computer, choose your id name, and follow some simple instructions to set it up. Some common programs you might have heard of…Skype (, seen it used on Oprah?), ooVoo (, has cool visual effects), and iChat (a fav of MAC users). Some programs even let you conference with up to 6 people at the same time.

The Sound

Most new computers come with built-in speakers and microphone. These don’t work for video-chatting because the conversation from the speakers feeds-back into the microphone so the other caller hears themselves instead of you. You need a microphone that can’t “hear” your speakers.

Basic –A headset is an inexpensive way to solve this problem. The draw backs to a headset – you’re tied to the computer by wires, it can be uncomfortable for long calls, it messes up your hair, and only one person can participate in the call at a time. The headset used in the tv story is an analogue stereo headset from Plantronics ($25).

Better – The better option is a speaker phone. I’ve really liked the IPEVO TR10 Speakerphone ($79) because it has echo cancellation for natural conversation; is hands-free so you have freedom to move around, works as speaker phone or handset so you can also have private conversations, and you don’t have to wear it so your hair stays perfect.

The Camera

Basic – Some computers come with a built-in webcam. They are convenient and provide basic functionality. The problem – you never get real eye contact with these cameras because of the position of the camera. All the camera sees is the tops of your eyelids. And the camera is limited to showing your face, so you can’t really show the other caller anything else in the room.

Better – The better option is a separate web camera mounted to the side of your computer screen. Mount the camera at eye-level, right next to your screen so you can quickly look back and forth between the camera and screen. This simulates natural eye movements that occur in normal natural conversation. My favorite webcam is the IPEVO Pointer Cam (, $40). This camera is unique – you can pick it up so you can show the viewer things other than your face – close-ups of objects and text, your entire outfit or hair style, a room you just reorganized etc. This camera allows you to share your life instead of just your face. This might seem insignificant, and after you chat a few times, you’ll really appreciate this feature.


Basic – Chat programs are designed to use regular room lighting. The problem with most room lighting is that if comes from the ceiling. Down lighting literally creates a “horror show.” When the light comes from above, it creates shadows under our eyes, nose, and chin like a Freddy Kruger movie. Not the best look for date night or business calls.

Better – The best lighting for video calls is soft filtered light coming straight into your face. Position yourself in front of a window with indirect light. Or use two clamp-on work lights from a home improvement store with frosted low wattage day-light bulbs. Aim the light straight into your face (the low wattage/filtered light keeps you from getting blinded).

For Sarah’s tips on setting up the video-chatting equipment, go to

What’s Sarah Wearing?

On Great Day Houston – Boston Proper Turquoise Baubles Tunic (, $149.00), Boston Proper Stone Hoop Earrings ($69)Lee bootcut dark wash jeans (Wal-mart, $17), and gold platform peep-toe pumps (Via Spiga, $200)

On San Antonio Living – Paisley-print knit top (, $79.00), Levi Signature dark wash jeans (Wal-mart, $18), gold platform peep-toe pumps (Via Spiga, $200), and gold metal pendant (Harwin St. Houston, $5)