Is the iPad 2 Right for Your Small Business? - Page 2

By Gerry Blackwell
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iPad Videoconferencing With Skype

While the specs for the front-facing camera appear to give competitors such as the Motorola Xoom with its higher-res camera an advantage, you could argue that you don't need more than VGA resolution anyway.

You'll likely only ever use the iPad 2 for videoconferencing while mobile. Whether you're connecting over a 3G network or public Wi-Fi network, the connection probably isn't going to support very high-resolution video.

We tested the camera with two VoIP-based videoconferencing apps: Skype and Fuze Box Inc.'s Fuze Meeting app. In two-way video calls on Skype's peer-to-peer network, using a Wi-Fi link to a cable modem Internet connection, audio quality was okay, but not as good as audio-only calls on the iPad 1. There was very noticeable latency (delay) and jitter (break up and clipping).

Video was more challenging, partly because Skype does not yet have an app optimized for the iPad's larger screen. You can either view it at iPhone screen size or magnify it two times, which degrades graphic -- and video -- quality.

Still, sometimes the video was surprisingly okay, if a little blocky-looking and pixelated, and never full motion.

With proper lighting and the iPad mounted in some kind of stand so the picture doesn't weave all over as the person holding it shifts about, you could participate in a more formal videoconference using this device. It would be a distinct improvement over using a smartphone.

This became clearer when we tested the iPad 2 with Fuze, which offers a for-fee cloud-based videoconferencing-plus-web conferencing service. Fuze jumped on the iPad 2 early and came out with a free app that takes advantage of the camera and the iPad's screen.

We set up a test call with Fuze in which there was one other active participant, also using an iPad 2, and one less active participant sitting in front of an HD webcam. At our end, it was running over the same Wi-Fi link and cable modem Internet connection.

As is typical in multi-party video conferences, the video windows for each participant were smaller than full screen most of the time. And like other such services, Fuze adjusts the video quality on the fly to accommodate conditions on the link.

Video was generally better quality than with Skype. Image quality in particular was better -- not as blocky or pixelated.

Initially, we used Fuze's teleconferencing bridge for the audio portion. The idea was to reserve the Internet bandwidth for the video. As a result, the audio was poorly synchronized with the video.

When we hung up the phones and used VoIP on the iPad 2, the synchronization problems went away, the audio quality was adequate - better than Skype - and the video did not noticeably degrade.

Of course, two-way video calling on Skype is a free service. Fuze is priced from $10 a day to $830 a year.

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This article was originally published on May 18, 2011
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