The computer helper: Gearing up for Skype
By Jay Dougherty Sep 17, 2007, 4:13 GMT
Washington - You've probably heard of Skype - the Internet telephony application that enables you to make free phone calls with your PC - but you may not know whether it's right for you.
Telephoning through the internet, after all, has been available for years, but most applications that purported to make the process painless were actually difficult to use, unreliable, and impractical.
Skype, though, has changed a lot minds - at least 50 million, by last count - in part because it has done a good job of overcoming some of the objections that folks had in the past to the idea of using a PC as a telephone. So what can Skype do for you? Read on for some answers.
Q: Can I use Skype to call normal telephones? I'd like to take advantage of the cost-savings, but none of my family members overseas can use their computers as telephones.
A: Actually, yes. One of Skype's underutilised features is the ability it gives you to call anyone, regardless of whether they're running Skype at their end. There are some catches, however.
First, while computer-to-computer Skype is free for both parties, if you wish to use Skype's ability to call normal landlines or cell phone numbers, you'll need to subscribe to the SkypeOut service. For calls to US or Canadian phones, the SkypeOut service costs 29 dollars (21 euros) per year. For that, you get unlimited calls and unlimited minutes.
For Skype calls to phones in other countries, you'll typically pay a connection fee of 3.9 cents and 2.1 cents per minute of talk time. Those rates probably compare very favourably to what you'd receive if you use your normal land or cell phone. You can find a complete list of rates to specific countries on Skype's rates page (http://www.skype.com/products/skypeout).
The SkypeOut service will not, however, allow you to receive calls from normal landline or cellular telephones. For that, you'd have to purchase the SkypeIn service, which goes for 60 dollars per year. With SkypeIn, you'll receive a telephone number that you can give out to contacts who have traditional telephones. They can call your Skype number, and you can speak to them without worrying about per-minute fees.
Those who use two or more of Skype's fee-based services may also want to look into SkypePro and SkypeUnlimited, which bundle several of the most commonly-requested Skype services at lower prices than you would pay if purchasing those services a la cart.
Q: How is the sound quality of calls placed with Skype?
A: Surprisingly good - especially if you remember the marginal voice quality offered by earlier generations of Internet telephony products.
The quality of Skype telephone calls will depend in part on the quality of your microphone. However, even the basic microphones provided in webcams deliver decent performance, with few issues related to static, choppy sound quality, or dropped calls. Compared to the often dismal voice quality of today's cell phones, Skype's sound quality should seem downright luxurious.
Q: Do I have to wear a headset attached to my computer to use Skype?
A: No. In fact, the best way to use Skype is to buy a USB phone. As you might expect, these phones connect directly to your computer, but they look and work just like a regular telephone. You can find a USB phone that looks like a normal desktop telephone as well as one that resembles a typical cell phone.
These USB phones ring and often sound just like a normal phone, and after a while you'll probably forget you're even using Skype to make and receive calls. USB phones are available at most computer stores, online and real-world. Prices are anywhere from 30 to 50 dollars.
Q: Can Skype transmit video as well as voice? If so, how can I set my computer up for video?
A: Yes, Skype can make use of most normal webcams that you can attach to your computer. With a webcam-enabled computer or notebook, you'll be able to talk to and look at your talking partner simultaneously.
To use a webcam with Skype, simply install the webcam using the installation instructions and software provided with the device. Then start Skype, and the webcam's existence should be picked up by Skype.
You'll be presented with a dialogue box asking whether you wish to allow the webcam to be used with Skype. Consent and you'll be good to go. Don't worry about being seen when you don't want to, either. You can control whether video is broadcast with your voice by clicking one button.
--- Have a computer question? Send it to the Computer Helper at firstname.lastname@example.org.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur