GeekGrandad’s on TV – SkypeTastic!

Geek Culture

View from Lois's EndView from Lois's EndWe love Skype video-calling. It lets Grandad (who lives way up north) keep up to date with Lois’s latest facial expressions, sprouting teeth and favourite throat-clearing noises, and on some level we hope she has grown to recognise him and his voice too. They last met in person when she was just a few weeks old, and obviously a lot has changed since then!

Until recently these calls were very brief, as holding her up to the PC’s webcam in the spare bedroom was backbreaking for us and not over-comfortable for her. Keeping those little stampers off my good keyboard was another challenge.

In a moment of inspiration I had the idea of calling from the comfort of the living room instead, using a camcorder and TV linked to the upstairs computer. Fortunately all the cabling to & from the PC was already in place (in one direction to record onto the PC from the PVR, in the other to pipe music and "My Pictures Slideshow" from the PC to the TV). An s-vhs splitter later we had the camcorder set up under the TV (see picture), rigged up as the skype webcam feed. Shock-horror however, there was serious lag – my TV card has hardware MPEG encoding, so the picture was arriving around 2 seconds behind the sound. GeekGrandad to the rescue! His spare WinTV-USB adaptor arrived in the post, and following (thankfully driver-conflict free) installation the picture was back in sync with the sound.

I’d been worried about the sensitivity & quality of the camcorder microphone for skype, but was pleasantly surprised – we can just speak normally from across the room – and other concerns about feedback with Grandad’s voice booming from the surround-sound speakers have proved groundless.    On the TV side the quality is excellent (though difficult to photograph) with theControlfreak on Nokia N70Controlfreak on Nokia N70 monitor set up in "clone" mode at 800×600.

Making & answering calls and changing skype options is achieved using the ControlFreak application on my Nokia N70. This free software offers remote desktop control via bluetooth (as well as direct winamp music control, which I’ll get to in a future nursery-noise post!) so works as a long-range wireless mouse.

Something was missing however – the video splitter I used has space for three inputs and I was only using two of them. I can’t stand seeing blank sockets if something extra could be plugged in, so after some garage-rummaging the Night Vision NurseryCam (see previous post) was added into the mix. Now if Grandad calls after bedtime, we just switch cameras and he can watch her sleeping while we chat! We haven’t gone quite as far as the NoahCam , as video is restricted to the few people in our contacts list, but thanks to previous commenter Nathan B for planting the idea of a live feed for the grandparents. 

View from GeekGrandad's EndView from GeekGrandad's EndThe big test was last weekend, and everything went swimmingly – we could all see & hear each other perfectly, and Lois & Grandad entertained each other for a good while gurgling and grinning. We’ll definitely use the same set-up for future calls, as it’s so much more comfortable than huddling round the PC and the video quality is far better from the camcorder.

Now I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right – the whole scenario could be achieved using just a wireless laptop and a webcam – but where’s the fun in that?

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