Making video calls on a PC or Mac – ABOUT MAG 2020

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A few days ago, I received a video call from my 6-year-old granddaughter. Confined at home like all of us, she took an iPad into the bedroom to call relatives and friends.

This call lifted my spirits. If yours can use an elevator, try using free video call services to get in touch with the people you know. Some of the best known are Skype, Zoom and Facebook Messenger, which is why you want to use them:

• They are easy to use and work on almost any PC or Mac with an Internet connection.

• You can call almost anyone. Zoom and Facebook Messenger make free video calls to other computers or smartphones. Skype is free for computer-to-computer calls, but calling smartphones costs $ 3 a month.

• The person you call doesn’t need to be tech savvy or have any special software.

• Because it is a video call, you and the person you call need a computer with a camera and microphone. If your computer does not, you can purchase an external camera microphone unit connected to your computer’s USB port. (They cost $ 30 or less on Amazon.com or Bestbuy.com).

These services have taken off in recent weeks due to orders to stay at home to avoid the coronavirus. If you’re still upgrading, here’s how to use them:

Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger is probably the easiest service to use, but you and the people you call will need free Facebook accounts to use it. (To sign up for a Facebook account, go to the Internet address tinyurl.com/yx7d67za) When on Facebook, you can make video calls with other members, one at a time or in groups of up to 50.

There are two ways to make video calls from Facebook Messenger: accessing Facebook.com (which works on all computers). Or by downloading a new Messenger application for Macs (works on almost all Macs, download at tinyurl.com/segvcbe) or PC (works only on Windows 10, get it from tinyurl.com/uvt6tu3)

I recommend the first method, but be sure to use the Google Chrome or Opera browser. Log in to Facebook.com. Hover your cursor over the icons in the upper right corner until you find what flashes with the name “messages” (it looks like a “speech bubble” in a cartoon.) Click on it and you will see a list of messages you have received from other Members of the Facebook.

At the end of the list, click “see everything in Messenger”. You will be directed to a new screen that says “chats” in the upper left corner. In the search box below “chats”, enter the name of the Facebook member you want to make a video call with. That person’s name will appear in “Contacts” below the search box. Click the name in Contacts; this will cause the person’s name to appear at the top of the screen.

In the upper right corner of the screen, click on the icon that looks like a movie camera. You will now be connected to a video call. (On your first call, you’ll have to go through two additional screens that test your camera and microphone.)

Note that the person you call should have Facebook open and click “answer” when your call arrives. On the first call, he may be asked to allow Facebook and the browser to access the computer’s microphone and camera. (If there is still no photo, he or she should click on the camera icon with a line.)

To end the call, click the red button on the screen.

Enlargement

Zoom is easy to use and has become quite popular in recent weeks. The free version allows you to call a friend for an unlimited period of time or three or more friends at the same time for up to 40 minutes. Works best with Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox browsers.

Zoom had some problems that could have been avoided. One of Zoom’s optional features, which allows you to record a video call so you can view it later, became controversial when hackers stole private video calls that consumers had recorded and stored online. To avoid this problem, never press the “record” button on the screen and ask your friends to do the same (for more safety tips, see tinyurl.com/r9bxok3)

On a PC or Mac, you can make a call through the website (zoom.us/join) or downloading an application (see tinyurl.com/j8zfca3) The app seems to work better, so I’ll focus on that.

When the application starts, click “sign in”. You can set up a new account or log in as a Zoom, Google or Facebook user. As part of the login, you will be asked to “create account”. Clicking yes, triggers a message saying “Open zoom? Zoom.us wants to open this application.” Click “Open zoom”.

The next screen contains four buttons labeled “new meeting”, “join”, “schedule” and “share screen”. Choose “new meeting” and you will see yourself on the screen. At the bottom of the screen, click on the icon called “invitation”. On the next screen, choose “email”. You will be asked to send the invitation via Gmail, Yahoo Mail or “standard email” (if you use a PC-based email program, such as Outlook, it is “standard email”).

When you enter the selected email program, Zoom creates a new outgoing message containing instructions on how to join the video call – which website to access and, once there, which meeting ID and password to enter. Enter your friend’s email address in the “to” field and click send.

When your friend follows the instructions sent by email, he or she will be asked whether they want to attend the meeting with or without video – the right choice is video. You will receive a message saying that your friend has entered the “waiting room”. Click “admit” and your video call will begin. To end the call, click “end meeting” in the bottom right corner of the screen.

Skype

Skype is a well-known name in video calls because it has been available since 2003. A single video call can include up to 50 people.

You will need to download the Skype application for Windows or Mac (see tinyurl.com/y353myl2) The Skype for Windows app works on Windows 8.1 and 10. Skype for Mac requires Mac OS X 10.10 or later. For reasons that are not clear, the app seems to work best if you log in with a free Microsoft account (you can create a free account at tinyurl.com/yd2mmwam)

After logging in, you will be on the main Skype screen. Now go to the left of the screen and click on “meet now”. You will see your own face on the screen. To the left of your photo is a web address that begins with “join.skype.com” and is followed by letters and numbers. Click on that address and below it you will see the message “link copied”.

Typically, Skype sends this link by email to the friend you want to call, and that person accesses the web address contained in the email to connect to your video call. But Skype’s email function is not that reliable, so go to your own email account, paste the Skype link into an email and send it to your friend.

Now, to the left of your photo on the screen, click “start call”. You will be the only person on the call until your friend accesses the website listed in the email and clicks “join the conversation”. When you are notified that your friend is on the call, “answer” by clicking on the phone icon in the upper right corner of the screen. Then click on the video icon at the bottom of the screen so that the other person can see it. To end the call, click on the red phone icon at the bottom of the screen.

Others

If you want to try other video call services, there are several to choose from (see tinyurl.com/wmz82sg and tinyurl.com/qs9p3hz)

Email questions to steve.j.alexander@gmail.com or write to Tech Q&A, 650 S. 3rd Av., Suite 1300, Minneapolis, MN 55488. Include name, city and phone number.

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