Dave asked about this, in response to my “Best Remote Pairing Settings” post (http://www.pivotalblabs.com/articles/2007/04/13/best-remote-pairing-setting), so here’s my take on it.
For audio, Skype is the best. It takes a lot of CPU though. Sometimes the audio gets flaky, but restarting it usually fixes it. Also, Skype on the mac seems to crash sometimes. Audio over Yahoo and MSN messenger is pretty bad compared to skype, I think this is because Skype’s peer-to-peer technology gives a much superior audio quality.
For video, Skype is very good, but only does 1-on-1 currently, not conference video. If you want cross-platform conference video, Yahoo video is the currently the best (only?) free option. Unfortunately, yahoo doesn’t let you resize the video window like skype does.
iChat is really nice and does video conferencing, but requires a Mac on both ends. Also, iChat seems to need a lot of open ports (see portforward.com). I still haven’t gotten around to playing with our firewall to open the necessary iChat ports. I tried ssh-tunneling all the ports listed for iChat on portforward.com, but that didn’t work.
For group conversation, the PolyCom Communicator, Model C100s, is the best (http://www.polycom.com). It works on Macs and PCs. It also has built-in echo cancellation which usally works pretty well with Skype. It also takes a headphone jack, so you can hear the room, but still let your pair wear headphones. The only downside is that the speaker is kind of underpowered, and you can’t be heard in a loud room, but unless you are talking to the entire room your pair can just wear headphones. Also, it’s hard to hear really large rooms over the polycom. For that, you can use a sudio mic (see below)
For headsets, the Plantronics GameCom Pro1 (Digital Signal Processing) is an awesome headset. It’s really comfortable, which is a big deal if you wear it all day long. The only downside is that it is USB only, which means you can’t use a splitter to
If you want to listen to a large room, and the Polycom isn’t cutting it, you can invest in a studio quality microphone, and a tube preamp. We use the Behringer Tube Ultragain MIC100 Preamp, and a nice sudio directional mic – not sure of the brand now, because I’m remote :). Just plug these into an input jack via an adapter. The main downside of this is you don’t get the echo-cancellation like you get with the Polycom, so you always hear yourself talk. You can mitigate this by putting the speakers far away from the mic, but it’s still difficult.
One other note – on MacBooks, the audio input doesn’t seem to work with a normal jack mic (non-USB). It is a dual-purpose jack or something. I’ve only had success with USB mics on my MacBook.
The QuickCam Orbit MP is a very nice webcam, and you can even move it around through software – it has little motors on it that let you point it different directions, if you have remote VNC access to the box it is connected to.
The QuickCam Orbit works with Skype and Yahoo on the Mac, but has problems with other software. The remote motor control doesn’t seem to work, and iMovie and some other Mac apps don’t recognize it.
The iSight is also a decent Mac webcam, but the resolution isn’t as good as the QuickCam Orbit, and it’s not remotely controllable.