Hacking Skype for Better Teleconferencing

Hacking Skype for Better Teleconferencing
Photo: Randi Silberman Klett

David Schneider of IEEE Spectrum has an interesting article up about a system he set up to improve his Skype-mediated telepresence at their editorial meetings. Physically, the system consists of four oblong wooden boxes, distributed along their conference table, mounting ten USB devices between them—two webcams and eight microphones:

I wrote a Windows program in C#, which I dubbed MicPicker, to send short text messages between two computers during a Skype session. Based on what message is received, this software selects which webcam and microphone the Skype client uses…So with this program running at both ends, a remote attendee can choose which webcam and mic will be live during a meeting, changing that selection on the fly to follow the conversation.

Much better remote audio seems to be the system’s biggest advantage. Instead of having just one ear and one eye onto a ten-person conversation, David can remotely pick and choose the best audio and video feed depending on who is speaking. Other remote participants can share in David’s real-time “production” of the meeting. [Thanks, Dad!]

Teleconferencing on the Cheap – IEEE Spectrum

4 thoughts on “Hacking Skype for Better Teleconferencing

  1. Timothy Gray says:

    I’ve been doing that for years, but with pro gear. We use Plate microphones in the ceiling or boundary mics on the table and run them to a BiAmp DSP, then to a XLR->USB audio adapter to the PC.

    You can also use a Dazzle USB video capture device and a real video camera to deliver far better video than a cheap webcam can produce. using outputs from the Biamp you trigger Pan/tilt/zoom presets on the video camera.

    A LOT of corporate board rooms have this as PolyCom and Tandberg/Cisco devices are drastically overpriced. So they are using skype. Although the threat of advertising on screen is starting a migration to other services.

    You will see this kind of setup at most corporations, it’s been the norm for the past 2 years.

    We used to switch cameras, but without a video editor to do the switching you get video glitches. I wonder how he fixed the video glitching?

  2. Daniel Kim says:

    Another way to fee and switch between cameras is to use software from http://trackercam.com. The also have a driver for feeding from a Firewire-connected video camera into your PC’s software, to take advantage of the better optics.

    I’ve never really liked Polycom’s videoconference systems, although their speaker/microphone setup works very well out of the box.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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