Saturday, March 04, 2006

VoIP (Skype) hardware for the home user

VoIP and PC-to-PC communications are developing rapidly but the majority of users are still using those old speakers and microphone to do voice calls with friends and family. While adequate for music listening or occasional voice recognition software the speakers and microphone combination may not be the best solution for a hassle free voice communication using Skype, Yahoo Messenger or a SIP based software.

VoIP without a computer!

Wow! This will make even computer skeptics to look towards VoIP technologies. Also computer geeks will be able to speak with their friends without feeling like in a call-center with that headset on their head.

SIP is the best in this respect. While alliances are made to push Skype beyond the computer, currently there is no device to allow Skype calls without using a computer or at least a PDA. By contrast for SIP networks there are thousands of devices ranging from adapter to phone sets that allow talking using VoIP but no computer.

Just for beginners: if you are currently using one of the following software to do VoIP calls: GizmoProject, TelTel, pulver.Communicator, Yak Virtual VideoPhone, X-Lite, X-Pro or eyebeam then you can replace it with a hardware device that will stay on and functional even if you turn off your computer.

You have 2 choices:
- an analog telephone adapter (ATA) that will allow to use your regular telephone to perform VoIP calls. Some models allow a PSTN line to pass through the adapter so you can use the same telephone to make or answer regular or VoIP calls. Advance ATA models can be programmed to behave like a gateway between the PSTN like and VoIP line so you can make the following scenario a reality: make cheap international phone calls from your cell phone while driving.
- an IP telephone: looks like a regular telephone but instead of the phone line connector it has an Ethernet connector. Some models are wireless so you can use it with any WiFi network.

The prices for ATA devices ranges in $40-$100 depending on the features provided, while the IP telephone prices ranges in $60 – a few hundreds dollars.

Warning: Some retailers sell you ATA or IP Phones locked in particular networks exactly like cell phones! Be carefully when buying such a device. I recommend purchasing these devices from an online store such as:

Skype with a handset

If you are using Skype but you don’t like to were a headset you can purchase an USB handset for Skype. As mentioned earlier, at least at this moment, Skype devices require a computer connection usually via USB.
You can find good offer of USB handset devices for Skype some starting at $40. Most of them have a screen so you can select the user you want to call directly from the handset. For the ones that you prefer cordless, offers an interesting cordless dual phone that can be connected to a normal telephone socket and a USB port on a PC for a 2-in-one Skype device.

For other Skype devices just browse the Skype store.

Echo-free conference calls from a computer

No matter what software you are using (Skype, Yahoo Messenger, etc) if you intend to make a conference from your computer where more than one person need to speak at the same microphone then probably you think that a set of speakers and a microphone is the only solution.

You’re wrong! If you already tried to use a pair of speakers and a mic then probably you are familiar with that annoying echo effect. Some companies started to produce USB speaker phones that solve this issue. They incorporate DSP chips to cancel the noise and echo and allow multiple persons speaking hands free. Just browse on the internet for one of the following devices:

VoSKY Chatterbox
Zonet VoIP USB Conference Speaker for Internet Calls
IOGEAR USB Speaker Phone
MiniVox USB Speakerphone
US Robotics USB Internet Speakerphone

Warning: Usually these kind of devices are optimized for voice and not music listening.

USB Headset

This is a good solution for computer geeks to make echo free private conversations. No much to say about this, since you probably already know the advantages of a headset. These USB headsets incorporate soundcards so the computer doesn’t need any sound capabilities. USB Headsets tend to cost more than analog headsets that you plug in your soundcard jacks.

Analog Headset

This may be a very good choice for many computer enthusiasts. The analog headsets have decent prices and excellent audio quality combined with a good sound card on the computer. You can use them to listen music or movies sound and also for VoIP communications.

If you want to use your headset for VoIP as well then it makes sense to purchase one with mic incorporated. These types of headsets will have two jacks at the other end, one to plug into the soundcard output and one in the mic input.

Now let the fun begin. Usually for the majority of desktop computer the audio jacks are placed on the back of computer tower. This will make your life difficult each time you want to unplug your speakers and desktop mic and connect the headset with its mic. Fortunately you can find 2 nice switch devices that will allow switching between the speakers and headset with the touch of a button. Search for one of the following products:

RadioShack Computer Headphone Speaker Switch

Desktop speakers and microphone

Consider this as your last option for performing a voice call in good conditions. Of course if you don’t have anything else available this may be a good solution if you are tuning your software settings, especially Echo and Noise Cancellation settings and VAD (Voice Activity Detection).

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