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A Full-Time 2-Way Video Link To Grandparents? 240

uid7306m writes "We have elderly parents who live a long way off. However, my technological radar tells me that it's possible to set up a 24/7 video link between our kitchen and theirs. It'd be good for our kids and good for the parents, and we can now get pretty cheap nearly unlimited broadband connections at this end (UK). What's the best way to do it? Has anyone tried it? On the far end, it ought to have, in Dilbert's(TM) immortal words 'One big button on it, and we push it for you in the factory.'"
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A Full-Time 2-Way Video Link To Grandparents?

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  • Apple iChat (Score:5, Informative)

    by rlobue ( 1099995 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @04:35PM (#24721261)
    I use Apple's iChat. Of course you need a Mac but I talk for hours full screen to my relatives around the world. With two semi-good broadband connections, it works flawlessly and the quality is second to none (in this price range). Of course the downside is that you'd both need Macs.
    • Re:Apple iChat (Score:5, Informative)

      by Holi ( 250190 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @04:38PM (#24721285)

      Why not Skype, I use that on my mac to talk with my friend in Hawaii who uses Linux on here laptop. Video quality is very good. Now if only my MBP had better speakers.

      • Re:Apple iChat (Score:5, Informative)

        by penguinbrat ( 711309 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:00PM (#24721947)

        Skype also has the API that you could always write a simple bash script to use, I believe it uses DCOP for the calls. Don't know how extensive it is, but any API can be very useful in obtaining the ultimate '1 click' stop and shop deal... Not sure if it is still active but they used to have it where communication between Skype accounts were free, there is also a ZOOM modem like thing for Skype now, pretty cheap at Wally world, that you can hook a normal phone up to it.

      • Re:Apple iChat (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Simon (S2) ( 600188 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:11PM (#24722037) Homepage

        Why not Skype

        Just because you ask: I think some of us don't like a 12MB encrypted binary executable file running on our system that nobody [blackhat.com] except the creators know what it does.

        • by Z34107 ( 925136 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @08:03PM (#24722683)

          Just because you ask: I think some of us don't like a 12MB encrypted binary executable file running on our system that nobody except the creators know what it does.

          Well, if disk space is an issue, just gzip it or something. But, gosh, for 12MB... You should delete a few things, man.

        • by aliquis ( 678370 )

          ... that and it's not compatible with anything else due to said reason.

        • by Awptimus Prime ( 695459 ) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @02:03AM (#24724319)

          Just because you ask: I think some of us don't like a 12MB encrypted binary executable file running on our system that nobody [blackhat.com] except the creators know what it does.

          It appears to make phone calls over the Internet and to POTS phones. Mystery solved.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sootman ( 158191 )

        I've got a baby, a mac, and several distant relatives, some with macs and some with PCs. iChat is noticably better than skype. As a bonus 10.5 has screen sharing built in too, just as easy to use.

        For extra ease if use, Google for the terminal command to make iChat auto-accept incoming requests.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Actually, a PC with the Windows AIM client works very well with a Mac running iChat. I do it with my friends in Ohio all the time. So you could get your grandparents a cheap MacBook (or Mini), and you (assuming you're running a Windows box) only have to pitch in for a AIM-compatible webcam. Or if you wanted to go the Linux route, you could use Skype on your Platform Of Choice(tm).
    • Re:Apple iChat (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rwven ( 663186 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:08PM (#24722007)

      Just for anyone who hasn't tried iChat, I've used a LOT of video conferencing software and iChat's video conferencing is leaps and bounds ahead of anything else out there for the mainstream.

      I have no idea what they do to preserve so much video quality on the trip, but it's astoundingly good. Comparing it to Skype or regular AIM (or MSN or what-have-you) chat is pretty laughable and anyone who's really compared will vouch for that.

      • by aliquis ( 678370 )

        Yeah, iChat functionality may be cool (shared desktop and showing applications and such to), to bad the UI isn't (Why do they use multiple contact lists for instance? Fixable with a third party fix/plugin/patch/...) but most important since Jabber doesn't offer webcam support yet and everyone around uses MSN they need to support MSN or I won't use it because it's no fun talking to yourself all the time.

        Not that I have many friends or people added anyway. I tend to remove MSN contacts and my IRL circle are s

    • Re:Apple iChat (Score:4, Informative)

      by ches ( 134162 ) <ches@cheswick.com> on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:45PM (#24722269) Homepage

      ichat worked well with my wife in Beijing and my daughter in Edinburgh this summer. iChat allowed simultaneous conversations, skype doesn't, AFAIK.

      One fun thing: inviting my wife 12 time zones away over to dinner with friends. The Mac is like Elijah, doesn't eat much, and cause dinner conversation worked well. Poor video quality wasn't a bother.


  • hmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 23, 2008 @04:36PM (#24721267)

    24/7? Guess no more going out to the kitchen in your undies for a late night snack.

  • Bad idea (Score:5, Funny)

    by ArcherB ( 796902 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @04:36PM (#24721269) Journal

    Unless you want your kids to see grandpa giving it to grandma over the kitchen sink, I wouldn't recommend it.

  • In the us unlimited broadband may be going away and isp's like comcarp do don like steaming video.

  • Skype... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by purduephotog ( 218304 ) <hirsch@STRAWinorbit.com minus berry> on Saturday August 23, 2008 @04:38PM (#24721283) Homepage Journal

    ... but that might be too complicated.

    I could see some advantages of streaming both ways to large flat panels. I think it would be a bit intrusive, though, because as much as I love my parents I'm very glad there is a 10 hour distance between us.

    If all else fails you could just do a webcast. While interestingly linked, I just can't get into the concept too much for fear that one day I might see my mother in law staring back at us ;)

  • do it from both ends and view at each side.

    webcam video streaming has been available for years.

  • by weregeek ( 578174 ) <logan@@@northshoresunset...com> on Saturday August 23, 2008 @04:44PM (#24721333)

    I am sure that there are other similar products, and at under $150 a piece, something like the DLink DVC-1000 here: http://www.dlink.com/products/?sec=1&pid=8 [dlink.com] would be hard to beat in terms of simplicity.

  • iChatAV on OS X (Score:5, Informative)

    by piper5ul ( 217088 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @04:46PM (#24721363)

    I have tried it on numerous occasions - it is solid for home-home comminications.

    Also, everything is just a click away!

    You can also use skype but the quality is not consistent. Also, too many clicks.

  • Bandwidth caps? (Score:5, Informative)

    by el_chupanegre ( 1052384 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @04:47PM (#24721371)

    Are you with a decent ISP? (If there is such a thing)

    If you are with Virgin Media then you will easily exceed their bandwidth limits which you can find at the bottom of this page [virginmedia.com].

    I'm not sure what other ISPs set their limits at (or if they publish them at all like VM do) but I'm pretty sure you would exceed them also.

    I'd think about the possibility of other options, such as simply using a video-call when required. Most of the time you would simply be streaming video of 2 empty kitchens to each other wouldn't you?

  • Ekiga (Score:3, Informative)

    by mikael ( 484 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @04:47PM (#24721375)

    If you have a Linux distribution, there is 'ekiga' which allows you to run video conferencing.

    But I've always wondered if there was something simpler that wouldn't need to go through a third party server, and would allow the webcam window to be resized.

  • Skype (Score:5, Informative)

    by mrbah ( 844007 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @04:51PM (#24721395)
    Install Skype at both ends and start a video call between them. Enable full screen mode and presto, you have a 24/7 live video link.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Your comment violated the "postercomment" compression filter. Try less whitespace and/or less repetition.
  • Home made thing. (Score:5, Informative)

    by suck_burners_rice ( 1258684 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @05:02PM (#24721495)

    At your gramp's kitchen, two options:

    If you're not very adventurous: Any computer. Any video conferencing software (such as Skype). VPN software (such as OpenVPN). VNC software (such as RealVNC). The best is if you get a computer where the screen and computer are in the same enclosure. You don't even hook up a keyboard or a rat. If something happens, you lgo on their desktop thru the VPN and VNC and click on Skype again or whatever.

    If you are very adventurous. Buy a nice flat screen display. Take the damn thing apart and get rid of all the crap except the screen and whatever signal massaging hardware is hooked up to it. Get a single board x86 computer that has a watchdog chip on it and built-in flash and tons of RAM for your software installation. Attach it and the screen's signal massaging hardware to one side of a rectangular piece of sheet metal the size of the display, and attach the display on the other side of it. Make that sheet metal a bit taller than the display. Get a camera with built-in microphone; take it apart, and attach it above the display. This probably requires drilling a few holes, tapping is optional, and will probably require some nuts, standoffs, etc. Run the wires however you can, preferably the shortest distance possible. Make an enclosure for this out of wood or something. Install Linux, OpenVPN, X, VNC, and your video conferencing software (something like Ekiga, hacked to automatically initiate a connection to you upon startup) into the flash in such a manner that upon power-up or reset, the entire flash partition is copied into RAM that's treated as a partition and booted from there. At all other times, the flash is never touched. Upon the computer crashing, locking up, or being h4x0red/0wn3d/etc., (which might happen once in a while), the watchdog will reboot it, so a fresh, original filesystem image is loaded back into the RAM and rebooted. This can happen in a matter of a minute from reset thru the videoconferencing software coming up again. With OpenVPN, you can always log in and fix something unexpected if that happens. While we're at it, build yourself one of these. And for extra credit, document the whole process with photos and videos and post it online for everyone to respect you in awe for being such a 1337 h4x0rz yourself. Heck, you might even be able to make a business out of selling a bunch of these. Hint: If you want to do that, stock up on a bunch of the same model display, because those change all the time and you can never buy the same exact thing (with same hardware attached) twice. If you attempt to go through one of those flatscreen stocking companies, the same display will cost you double and not come with the added hardware.

    • Absolutely, that would be nice (the adventurous option). Why the VPN, though? I have simple customs, I just tunnel over SSH when I need to encrypt a connection. What is it I am missing by not doing VPN?
      • I don't really know. I guess it boils down to personal preference. When I first used OpenVPN, it was so easy to configure and use (on Linux, BSD, Windows, and Mac) and gave such flexibility that it's the only thing I use now. It works over SSL. You see a tun or tap device that you can apply packet filtering rules to, so essentially it's like having a dedicated interface connecting you to the distant network. It does public-key encryption, certificate and shared key authentication, compression with LZO; you

  • by neutrino38 ( 1037806 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @05:12PM (#24721587) Homepage Journal

    We have bought a pair of Grandstream videophone. The are cheap and much easier to use than PC for older people as they are basically ... telephones.

    You can even setup Grandpa's one in auto-answer mode but I would not recommend it for obvious privacy issues as one of the comments above maliciously reminded.

    AH and to overcome NAT and dynamic IP address issues, you have to setup a hosted SIP proxy and media relay such as Asterisk. I cheat here as this the very business of my company.

    By the way if you want a pair of free SIP accounts and the Grandstream videophone, we could sell them to you.

  • by BLAG-blast ( 302533 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @05:13PM (#24721605)
    ...when Gramps and Granny pass away live over the video link... oh dear! On the other hand it's good for children to learn about death at an early age.
  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @05:24PM (#24721687) Homepage Journal

    Umm haven't you heard? You only get that if you dont use it.

    Start doing 24/7 video and you will find your connection throttled, or gone.

    • Umm haven't you heard? You only get that if you dont use it.

      Kind of like a bank loan. You can only get one if you don't need it.
  • Surveillance systems (Score:5, Informative)

    by yuna49 ( 905461 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @05:27PM (#24721701)

    There are a variety of IP surveillance systems on the market designed for people who want to monitor their vacation homes, etc. Most of these are pretty inexpensive and easy to configure. That might be easier than building your own system using PCs.

    This company seems to offer a wide variety of solutions, some standalone, some PC based: www.fgeng.com

  • Simple (Score:5, Funny)

    by hax0r_this ( 1073148 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @05:52PM (#24721873)
    I don't see why everyone is recommending complicated video conferencing setups. Just set up apache on each end to stream from your webcam and use iptables to block connections from any IP except the one on the other end. If you don't have static IPs write a little script to update iptables on the other end every time the local IP changes. Then use dyndns so you never lose track of the other end (only apply the whitelist on the streaming port so ssh doesn't get blocked. Then use ssh keys). Then all you have to do is point firefox to their dyndns address/port.
  • Pretty much pick any Axis IP camera and you're golden. I've had Axis video links up for months at a time, no problem. Even broadband outages don't matter as the feed will reconnect if you use decent software (standard video stream, use software of your choice).
  • and we can now get pretty cheap nearly unlimited broadband connections at this end (UK).

    Sure you can. We have had "unlimited" connections here in the States for some time now (snicker snicker.)
  • You made no mention of what your hardware was, nor even whether or not you had a video camera.

    A few years ago, I bought some DLink webcams to set up a custom home video surveillance system, with remote monitoring from work. I believe that the model number was DCS-5300. But since they're mounted on-high, I'd rather not climb up on a ladder to find out for sure.

    For bandwidth and security reasons, I chose to get the 10/100Base-T versions, not wireless. The wired versions were also cheaper. You're going t
  • We use something that might fit your need - its an offshoot of the CCTV business, and it goes over the wire.

    Basically, its a little black box, which takes a couple of coax inputs and sends the resulting video to any clients connected via TCP/IP. It works over the internet (even over NAT, you just have to forward the right port), has a Windows client and is fairly cheap. One box each end, one client each end and you are done.

    The company we buy from is Vista, the boxes are various models of the SmartT
  • iChat is the best (Score:4, Informative)

    by jordandeamattson ( 261036 ) <jordandm@MOSCOWgmail.com minus city> on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:42PM (#24722257) Homepage

    Several have already said it, but I had to endorse iChat.

    I have 7x24 video conferencing up and running with a remote test team in India. The idea is that it is muted unless one or the other side wants to say something.

    We tried both Skype Video (another frequently mentioned option) and iChat. We are staying with iChat due to the simplicity, robustness, and quality.

    With Skype we had the connection drop multiple times in a night. With iChat it runs and runs and runs.

    With Skype, we had significant video and audio artifacts all of the time. With iChat they are infrequent occurrences.

    For Skype I had to write up an instruction guide. With iChat folks just got it.

    So, I say go with iChat.

  • If you really want to do it "right" as in pro and not cobble together some kind of link that is not going to provide constant high quality and reliable 2-way audio and video without eating your bandwidth then you want a dedicated link.

    There are a couple of ways you can go with it. One would be to look at a point-to-point leased line, either a conventional dedicated line or a virtual broadband link over something like a frame relay.

    An even better way to go might be point-to-point satellite because that
  • by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @07:11PM (#24722391) Journal

    On behalf of my fellow elderlies (I'm only honorary, at 53, but I'm in training), you do not want a 24/7 link. It needs to have a call siggnal and an on/off switch. You, and we, do not need to deal with your trauma of seeing grandpa bending grandma over the sink for a sneak-up quickie.

    Don't think we don't. You don't want to think about it at all, so consider the reasons why you don't want to.

    If you want a global on switch, fine. Let us have an override off switch. Put an hour delay cut-off on it if you like. We're old, it takes us more than the 10 minutes you kids take. (Just wait until you get to enjoy that aspect). And we're gladly admit that an hour is plenty, and we should be looked in on after that. Especially if we spend the whole hour.

    On the other hand, I've heard said "We wouldn't even bother to do it anymore, but the kids like to watch." If your elders have that mindset, go ahead and give them the means to offer you instruction 24/7. You don't think they haven't learned a few novel tricks in 40 or so years?

    Got a problem with this? Get over yourself. You're halfway to this age yourself, and I'm betting when you get there you'll have no plans on stopping.

    Go ahead and mod this funny, since you don't have a "+1 elders' wisdom" mod.

  • I recommend two mid-grade logitech webcams, and a projector on either end. Install the webcam in the middle of a large blank white wall, with the USB cable exiting the wall in a distant corner to connect to the machine. Then project your screen fullscreen directly on the same wall.

    If you use the entire wall, and get a good enough connection (I often do in Skype), you will have a wall that opens up virtually to another house with the identical setup.

    Setting this up for a full time connection with a cheap e

    • It is essential that your webcam only have the lens visible in the the wall, to complete the illusion. Be sure to smooth and Spackle the rest of the wall around your webcam installation to a solid smooth, uniform white.

  • I'm an engineer at tokbox.com, and we aim to be super simple video chat. It's all in flash, which is often pre-installed. Flash supports most webcams and all browsers.

    You can set up an account for yourself, and then give your parents a url tokbox.com/, which you can set as their default home page. Then there is an AIR based client if you want to leave running all the time on your end.
  • by Duncan Blackthorne ( 1095849 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @08:33PM (#24722879)
    You likely won't get away with the bandwidth you'll use doing this -- especially if it's Comcast. Inside the first month, they'll be all up in your business, threatening to shut you down, etc. because you dare to use the bandwidth you're paying for. I don't imagine it's going to be any better with any other ISP either, unless you buy business-class service, in which case they have less of a right to "manage" the bandwidth you're paying (way too much) for. A better idea would be to have a video link-on-demand instead of 24/7; sorry, pal. :-/
  • Try skype. It's really easy.

  • make automator do the rest
    a custom big red button icon for the automator script
    whose alias is in the startup items

  • by Kamineko ( 851857 )
    >and we can now get pretty cheap nearly unlimited broadband connections at this end (UK). Not upstream you can't.
  • There are self contained WiFi and Ethernet webcams (Most have a mini web server built in). That, a router and a Dynamic IP Name Service ( http://www.dyndns.org/ [dyndns.org] ) will finish off the bill. Many routers have built in support for some Dynamic IP Name Services. You set the router to forward Port 80 (Or whatever port the webcam ues) to the IP address of the webcam. Then you just point the computer at the URL and you are seeing still images or streaming video. Most Webcams even support a password system so o
  • I've always toyed with the idea of a tablet PC ( as it has some touch features) and the possibility of wall mounting it with a camera(s). In Linux it should be fairly simple to make a pretty dumb interface that would have very simple choices like "Camera on/Camera off", "Call Kids", etc The other choice is a throw away laptop wall mounted in to a larger flat screen (but you lose the touch ability and have to come up with another interface, maybe a custom keyboard attachment with some basic buttons labeled a

  • Question: does anyone do higher-resolution videoconferencing than 320x240? iChat does (640x480, I believe), but for better or worse I'm on a PC, and Skype's hi-def videoconf requires a whole litany of prerequisites - dual-core processor, specific Logitech cameras, etc, etc. I bought a Philips webcame that can do 640x480, 90fps, but nothing that can come even close to that. I certainly don't need 90fps, but 640x480 would be much nicer than 320x240. (I say that - is that even the case? Would lower-resolut

  • VLVC (Score:4, Informative)

    by atarione ( 601740 ) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @02:57AM (#24724501)

    seems like a easy and free / multi platform and open source solution is the VLVC plugin for VLC

    http://www.vlvc.net/en-home.html [vlvc.net]

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