What is the best quality video chat system? Google? Skype? Facetime?

A friend of mine wants to deliver some one-on-one online teaching via video chat. It seems like a good idea, except for the fact that I can almost never get a Skype video session to work reliably or smoothly with a friend or relative, even when both ends are served by broadband and reasonably new devices. Given that there will be a range of students and they will have differing hardware, software, and connectivity situations, what are some good choices?

And let’s maybe renew the discussion that I started in February asking why Skype was so bad. The companies offering video chat, e.g., Skype (Microsoft), Yahoo!, Google, and Apple, have near-infinite money. So there should not be any constraint on programmers or fancy algorithms. As the software runs peer-to-peer, there should not be any constraint on how much CPU and bandwidth can be consumed. Yet a comment on the previous posting stated, quite credibly, that the Polycom system worked far better than PC-based systems. Is there a non-free system that would be reasonable for students and teachers to install that would work a lot better than the standard free ones?

[Update: I forgot to ask… why don’t these systems allow recording for later review? Isn’t it just as easy for the software to write to the hard drive at the same time that it is writing to the display?]


  1. Tim

    July 27, 2012 @ 9:50 am


    Philip, have you tried Yahoo! Messenger? I used it five years ago, and at that time it was much more reliable than Skype today.

  2. Adrian Segar

    July 27, 2012 @ 10:23 am


    For several years now, an informal group of event professionals has been holding weekly video chats. During that time we have used every free video-conferencing system we could find. Every one was unusable for someone’s combination of PC/videocam/audio setup.

    Until Google Hangouts. Since this service started, random selections of up to ten out of >20 participants have been able to chat with very few problems. Unlike earlier services, everyone seems to be able to make hangouts work on their specific equipment.

    There are occasional glitches, but they are usually restricted to one participant being momentarily disconnected. The hangout continues and the person can reconnect in about 30 seconds.

    The automatic audio/screen switching works far better than any other service I’ve used, and feedback is normally suppressed well enough so that most people don’t have to wear headphones.

  3. Chris

    July 27, 2012 @ 10:43 am


    Has your friend checked out Adobe Connect?


  4. Kai Carver

    July 27, 2012 @ 10:46 am


    I’ve used Skype a lot. It’s great. Works most of the time, rather well. On lots of different platforms.

    But since I got an iPad, I’ve been using FaceTime, and the quality and ease of use and reliability are infinitely better. It has almost no features (no screenshots, integrated chat, videoconferencing, …). But what it does it does very, very well (I am an Apple skeptic so it hurts me to say this).

  5. David Wihl

    July 27, 2012 @ 12:21 pm


    +1 for Google Hangouts overall.

    Skype works generally one-on-one but there are regular glitches.

    The best video quality for Windows to Windows only is Microsoft’s LiveMeeting. It’s pretty frustrating for Mac users.

  6. Chaminda

    July 27, 2012 @ 1:00 pm


    Here is the 4th alternative for you. I have been using Webex (Sysco) free version (3people max) for sometime. So far I am quite pleased with the quality of the video and sound.

  7. Claire Cunningham

    July 27, 2012 @ 1:16 pm


    Hi all, I’m the friend being referred to – many thanks to everyone for the input and especially to Philip for posing the question.

    Chris, I have tried Adobe Connect – a nice platform for some use cases, but it seems to need use of a headset in order to avoid echoes, and that’s unfortunately suboptimal for music lessons.

    Glad to hear the positive reviews of Google Hangouts, that does seem like a good option.

  8. philg

    July 27, 2012 @ 1:20 pm


    Chaminda: Thanks for the Webex recommendation. Maybe that is the best choice, actually, because they say that they offer a “record” feature (https://signup.webex.com/Global/documents/ComparePlans.pdf says that this is included in all plans). And a third person could join to observe. It requires “1 host license” so perhaps each teacher would need to sign up as a “host”.

  9. J. Peterson

    July 27, 2012 @ 1:25 pm


    My sister does remote training on a system based on Adobe Acrobat Connect, and it seems to work reasonably well for her.

  10. Claire Cunningham

    July 27, 2012 @ 1:35 pm


    To clarify the above — we’re considering these options for one-on-one music lessons primarily, hence my above comment about music lessons. So audio/visual quality is probably the most important aspect to me, though it’s also interesting to see people’s opinions regarding video chat experience in general.

    Thanks again, everyone.

  11. Ted

    July 27, 2012 @ 2:38 pm


    Any of these services work best when the audio is carried over a real telephone line. At the office we use Google Hangouts for team meetings with the audio over an 800 number. Works great!

  12. Jean-François Noël

    July 27, 2012 @ 2:40 pm


    With Google hangout on air, you can also record a session. I don’t know where they are with the roll out, nor what kind of access control you have though.

  13. Steve Monk

    July 27, 2012 @ 2:54 pm


    Just a warning: when I tried to use Webex recording it recorded the audio and shared PC screen but not the video stream.

    I only tried once so it’s possible it was user error. And this was about a year ago so it’s possible things have changed.

  14. George

    July 27, 2012 @ 4:39 pm


    WebEx is our primarily web meeting tool here at my work. We use it internally as well as externally (when folks outside my company are also invited.)

    I have been using it for over 6 years now (on average few times a week anywhere from 30 min. to over 1 hour) and it works very well. In some cases, I started a meeting with over 50 users (and I know others have had over 100) with no real issues.

    Its sharing capability will let you share all of your desktop or selected application on your desktop. If you have dual monitor, you can only share what’s on one of those monitors (the one where WebEx’s browser is on.)

    Yes, it will let you record both video and voice (whatever you are sharing (i.e.: the other party is seeing) can be recorded.)

  15. Alex Chiang

    July 30, 2012 @ 1:03 am


    Here’s another vote for G+ (and as noted above, “hangouts on air” can be recorded).

    Regarding the question of “why are chats still choppy with broadband and modern devices” I’ll pyschicly debug this and claim that one (or both) ends of the chat are suffering from bufferbloat.

    A 5 minute way to diagnose this is described on my blog:

    Fixing it unfortunately requires a bit of savvy. There’s nothing easy that non-technical people can really do.

  16. Mark Lutton

    July 30, 2012 @ 8:25 pm


    Cisco Telepresence is best, but that’s like asking what’s the best camera and getting the answer “the Hasselblad H3DII-50”.

  17. Ryan

    August 1, 2012 @ 5:11 pm


    I’ve seen you mention your problems with Skype a few times. It’s strange because Skype seems to work really well for me. We even use it at work to interview international candidates. Works great AustraliaEurope and AustraliaUSA.

    I use a Macbook Pro with the built-in camera. Logically, it shouldn’t make a difference but maybe Skype relies on the OS to provide camera codecs?. When I talk to my Dad on a PC it looks horrendous but when I talk to another Mac user it’s almost pixel perfect.

  18. VP

    August 1, 2012 @ 7:55 pm


    Try gotomeeting by citrix before going with WebEx. I’ve used both for many years and GTM is far superior.

  19. Rainer

    August 2, 2012 @ 5:06 pm


    The Cisco telepresence stuff (“Jabber video”) works fine, but it requires a gatekeeper system for >2 participants.

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