When it became clear that my daughter, who lives in Ohio, is not moving back to Jersey anytime soon, I decided to buy a webcam in order that we may be able to “see” her more often. After some research, I settled on a Logitech Communicate STX ($40 from Amazon.com). Then I looked into a video calling service. I generally trust PC magazine for their product reviews, so I decided to try skype.com after their recommendation.
With Skype, you download a “client” piece of software which allows you to search for and “dial” other Skype users for free. You then can view the other user if he has a camera and he can see you if you have a camera. You talk to each other through a microphone (the camera I bought has one built in, otherwise you must purchase one separately). You hear each other through the PC speaker(s). As for quality, the video quality is fairly decent, and the sound is pretty good.
If you want to talk with non-Skype users, for $29.95 per year, you can make unlimited calls to any telephone in the US or Canada. These calls, of course, have no video feature. When I call people on their telephones, they say that it sounds OK, but it’s “a little different”. One of the nice things about using this phone method is that it is like using a speaker-phone, since it is hands-off. You can work on the computer at the same time with no problems. And you can’t beat the price.
By the way, my daughter still hasn’t hooked up her webcam. She says she is rarely at home when she calls (the cell-phone generation). But I still have found a very inexpensive way to make phone calls from home.