Tuesday, July 18, 2006


I don't often write product endorsements, but it's no secret that I'm a Mac user so I don't figure it's much of a stretch to recommend the iSight. After being teased with futuristic technologies for the last half-century — flying cars, sentient robots, colonies on Mars — this is one of those rare gadgets that actually delivers one of those promises: It's a video phone that really works.

A couple of decades ago, you could buy a video phone for about $250. They worked about as well (read: badly) as most webcams nowadays, with a small, grainy image that refreshed every few seconds. You couldn't use it unless you had a unit on both ends of the call — and this was before wireless phones and answering machines, so $250 was a hell of a lot to spend on a telephone.

The Internet solved the compatibility problem; since any computer could receive the images, you could have one-way video chats even if the other party didn't own a webcam. But there was still a chasm between the low quality of the affordable webcams and the exorbitant price you'd have to pay for a good quality image. Then Apple came along.

The iSight combines a dual-element microphone with an autofocusing video camera that broadcasts up to 30 frames per second. In simpler terms, it looks and sounds great. It's not exactly cheap at $150, but it's a reasonable compromise: It's cheaper than a product of comparable quality would have cost a couple of years ago; and Macs are priced toward hardware's high end anyway, so it's about where you'd expect.

I don't really "chat." I had the opportunity to get an iSight cheap when it was first released and I did, but I hadn't used it until last week. Kerrie took a business trip to Denver; and rather than pay for long distance telephone calls, we kept in touch using AOL Instant Messenger's audio capability with our computers' microphones. I unpacked the iSight for good measure — and to make a short story quick, we're going to buy another before her next trip. It's amazing. It delivers exactly what has been promised for decades: clear audio with full-speed, real-time video between two people across the country.

No question, it's a toy you could live without — but it's exceptionally cool. I think it's better than the iPod. For any household with a broadband Internet connection, it's a genuinely viable replacement for the telephone. Granted, it's probably not something I'll use often; but when I have the opportunity, I'll definitely use it — and in the meantime, I recommend it.


At July 23, 2006 1:35 AM, Blogger J.D. said...

A couple of years ago I was part of market research for a computer-based "videophone". I posted an entry about it someplace on foldedspace, but my webhost has a power outage right now, so I can't give you the link. I thought it was interesting, but didn't use it much. (I don't use chat much, either, or the telephone. I'm an e-mail guy.)

That said, it's interesting that Apple is building iSight into most of its new computers. I'll end up using it by default here in the next couple years. (I've begun saving for my next Mac purchase, which will probably occur in about fifteen months.) I'm curious to see how well I like it...


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