Holiday Togetherness When You Can’t Be There

iPad2 FaceTime Test

Review by Justine Ezarik (

While in Houston with family for Thanksgiving, I discovered an article in USA Today that I just had to share. Thanksgiving togetherness when you can’t be there is a well written article about using a PC, tablet or smartphone with video conferencing software to bring families together virtually. It not only applies to holidays but any time you want to get family & friends together online. Please follow the link above to read the article.

Below is text from a previous article on this tech trend that I wrote about a year ago.

Here’s a way to keep in touch with grandchildren on one hand and elderly parents on the other, while improving care and reducing travel. Use the network and video capabilities of a TV, tablet, phone or computer to connect caretakers and caregivers. The technology is available today and improving rapidly, but the choices are sometimes confusing due to the lack of standards and interoperability among systems.

In a Boston Globe article, Hiawatha Bray reviews various video conferencing options that can support home healthcare. I summarize it here and provide links to video demos of each of the apps she mentioned, as well as apps I added.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is an open standard that was made popular by PC-based video products like Skype, Google Chat, and iChat. (Here’s a review of all three.) Most VoIP products rely on broadband-connected PCs with speakers and a webcam. The once challenging setup is improving, and image and sound are now approaching HD quality. VuRoom even extends Skype capabilities to multi-user conferencing, which can be used to connect the patient to their family, professional caregiver, and physician all at once. Another multi-user option is Google+ Hangouts.

Commercial telepresence systems that are used in hospitals have come down in price, now only need broadband speeds of about 1 Mbps, and have become good options for great quality video conferencing on high-definition TVs in the home or home office. Examples include:

Home entertainment systems that add video conference capabilities focus more on the consumer experience than business features. Examples include:

  • Microsoft Xbox 360 with Kinect motion control system is good at providing a wide screen view that automatically follows the person as they move, and an interesting feature lets both people watch a video. For telemedicine applications, a physician could play a video, see the patient’s reactions, make comments, and address questions.
  • Logitech Revue with TV Cam combines a $300 set-top box, which connects to the Google TV service, and a $149 TV Cam at 720p resolution.

Smart Phones & Tablets are starting to add front- and rear-facing cameras for taking pictures and movies and making video calls. Examples include:

  • Apple FaceTime, which is available on the new iPad 2, iPhone4, and iPod Touch, is the clear leader in the mobile category, providing the best user experience with the easiest setup.
  • Skype recently added a video chat application for iPad 2, which should make care providers happy. It can use either the front or rear camera. (Watch the video)
  • Qik is shown in this video on the Android-based Sprint HTC EVO 4G phone. Unlike FaceTime, Qik does not require a Wi-Fi connection and can work over a fast cellular network.