FreeTalk makes 720p Skype a populist option. (August 1st, 2010)
Few companies cater their hardware specifically to Skype, but FreeTalk is an exception; it designs with audio and video Skype chats in mind. Its premier webcam, the Everyman HD, is rare as it not only comes certified but allows for full 720p in Skype's app. With a retail price of only $50, it could be the holy grail of affordable, HD video conferencing hardware? As we found out in our Everyman HD review, if your internet connection is fast enough, it just might be.
Product Manufacturer: Everyman
- Excellent value for money.
- Good video quality; on-par audio.
- Easy Windows setup; Mac support.
- Needs fast Internet for two-way 720p.
- Skype 5 beta still glitchy.
Hardware and user experience
From a hardware and design perspective, the Everyman HD is exactly what we would expect. The hinge that mounts the camera to the top of an LCD monitor is extremely flexible, and the USB cable is adequately long. The Everyman HD comes with only a small instruction pamphlet which essentially tells users to plug the camera into a USB port and then load Skype.
True to the instruction pamphlet, the Everyman HD truly is a plug and play device. To test the Everyman HD, we loaded a fresh copy of Skype 4.2 on a dual-core Dell Latitude running Windows XP with 2GB of RAM. Upon starting Skype and plugging in the webcam we were ready to go. FreeTalk does support Macs with the camera; we didn't have the option of testing Apple's OS here, but it usually has equally easy setup as well.
To test the webcam, we arranged a Skype session with Jim, a representative from FreeTalk who also has an Everyman HD. Unfortunately, Jim told us that our 3Mbps down, 768Kbps up DSL connection wouldn't allow him to view us in 720p, but since we had Skype 4.2 we could see him at the higher resolution while he could see us in standard definition.
Jim had some technical difficulties on his end that took a while to get the HD functionality to work correctly and gave us initial problems. Skype ran fine with standard definition video, but Jim's Skype client crashed several times when entering HD. After a few crashes, though, Jim revealed an important point -- that he was beta testing Skype 5 -- and had to revert back to Skype 4.2. Jim also reset his cable modem, router, and computer (all of which had been on for several weeks at a time). Once all the hardware was back up and running, we were able to see Jim in HD without any technical issues.
The user experience with the Everyman HD is lifelike. Something happens between a very high quality standard definition video conference and a high definition video conference; the experience feels less like a video conference and more like a face to face conversation through a window. Needless to say, the video quality is phenomenal with the Everyman HD. There are still small traces of block artifacts, but it's much crisper, clean, and reasonably color accurate with autofocus to keep the subject in sharp detail. Audio quality was also up to par, but is hardly worth commenting on in light of the video experience that the Everyman HD brings.
Despite some of the glitches we saw during testing, we believe that FreeTalk has built a top notch product. When the HD functionality is up and running -- which isn't an issue with a stable Skype release -- the picture quality is incredible. Two-way HD requires a fast internet connection, but it delivers the most life-like video conferencing experience we've tested yet, especially for the price.