10 Forward

Troubleshooting iChat AV for Voice and Video Chat

Dan Knight - 2003.06.24

Apple introduced yet another reason to go Ten Forward yesterday, iChat AV. It's a beta, and it's free through the end of the year. iChat AV add voice chat and video chat to the traditional text chat. It requires Mac OS X 10.2.5 or later, and you need a broadband connection if you want to use the video.

The problem is, it may not work right away, as I and some online friends discovered yesterday. The question was why wasn't it working for audio and video. Or, more precisely for one person on my buddy list, why he could connect to some people and not to others.

It took some fiddling around to determine that my Belkin 802.11b router has a firewall that apparently can't be disabled. Fortunately it also has a "DMZ" setting that can allow one computer on the network to appear outside the firewall - and that's what finally allowed me to use the audio portion of iChat.

The next step was to borrow my wife's ADS Pyro 1394 FireWire webcam. iChat recognized it immediately.

Of course, putting my one computer outside the firewall is not an ideal solution. On the one hand it opens the computer up to attacks. On the other hand, it prevents other Macs on the network from using the audio and/or video portions of iChat AV.

Fortunately Ryan Coleman of Coleman Web/Internet Services is one of the people on my buddy list. As I tried to connect to him for a voice chat, he monitored which port was being used. He later did the same thing with video.

We discovered that for voice chat to work, UDP port 188 must be open, and for video, you also need UDP port 332 open. Once I set those two ports as open in my router, I could take my computer out of the DMZ - and any Mac on our network with Jaguar and iChat AV could use voice or video chat.

Thank goodness for Ryan, because I couldn't find anything in the iChat AV documentation, help system, or Apple Knowledge Base that gave me any idea what ports to enable to bet past the firewall.

And now you know. If you've been having problems using the AV functions, this may be the last piece of information you need to get things working.

Other iChat AV Issue

We discovered a few issues in the process. For one, both Ryan and I are using titanium PowerBook G4s, and the internal microphone is centered below the screen - less than a half-inch from the fan. As it was a hot day, Ryan's fan was running hard, making it impossible to hear him talk over the racket. His temporary solution was to remove the keyboard and disconnect the cooling fan, not something you should have to do. Poor microphone placement, Apple.

The next problem was related to video chat. We played a bit with different settings, and I found setting the bandwidth higher than 500 kbps made no difference, but setting it to 200 kbps was not pretty. The Connection Doctor told me that both of our systems were doing about 15 frames per second and moving about 150 kbps worth of data.

The downside is that my 400 MHz TiBook was simply overwhelmed by the demands of the video stream. It took several seconds to switch applications, and even quitting all inactive programs didn't help. On slower Macs, video is a real resource hog, so don't plan on doing much else while using video chat.

The video quality is decent, and that's probably due as much to the pedestrian quality of most webcams as anything else. You can resize the window, even going as large as full screen. You can do a one-way chat if only one party has a camera attached.

In a two-way chat, you see both the person you're chatting with and a small picture-within-a-picture view from you webcam. The smaller image can be placed in any corner, but I didn't see a way to turn it off. I found it distracting, even after I resized it as much as possible. While it's nice to see what the other person is seeing, I wonder if it might make more sense to have a separate window showing the local image.

The only other drawback is that iChat AV only works with AOL and .mac accounts. No chatting with friends who have Yahoo or MSN Messenger accounts, something Apple should consider adding in the future.

It would also be nice if iChat AV allowed you to voice chat and video chat with people who aren't using iChat AV. Maybe Apple will add that in the release version.

Bringing the Fun Back

Playing with iChat AV for a few hours brought some of the fun back to computing. It's easy to change your icon (I never figured out how to do it with iChat 1.0). And once you get past the firewall issues, voice and video chat work quite nicely.

If you have Jaguar 10.2.5 or higher, give it a try.

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Today's Links

  • Mac of the Day: Power Mac 8200, introduced 1996.04.22. The minitower version of 7200 was never sold in America.
  • October 24 in LEM history: 1998: That extra 10% - 2000: Bring back the desktop Mac - 2001: iPod: Yawn or wow? - Projecting with a PowerBook - 2002: StarQuiz - 2003: Is the Panther upgrade worth it? - Notebook sales growth - 2005: How big a hard drive can I put in my Mac? - Finder copy not flawed, just different - 2006: MacBook Pro (Core 2) - 2007: eMacs in the Age of Leopard

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