Skype Offers High-Quality Videoconferencing

The catch: You also need high-priced webcams, new PCs, and fast broadband.

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QuickCam Pro 9000
QuickCam Pro 9000

Letting Grandma see the kids over the Web has gotten pretty good in recent years, and it's easy, too. With free programs like AIM, MSN Messenger, and ooVoo, we can videoconference over the Internet. While the quality isn't great, it's good enough to be worth the trouble.

Now I have to decide how badly I want better video. Skype and Logitech have teamed to offer what would be the best quality I've seen available free—a moving image that should be as good as a TV picture. The trick is that you've got to use Skype for Windows, high-priced Logitech webcams (such as the QuickCam Pro 9000, which runs about $75 online), and new computers with high-speed connections at both ends. The PCs must have dual-core chips, and the broadband needs speeds of 384 kbps going both directions, up and down. That level of speed is common for downloads, but many broadband customers don't have upload speeds that high.

Still, it's a promising announcement. Competitors are sure to match the specs in the coming months, and maybe with more generic hardware. Grandma will not only see the kids—she'll see every dimple.