I use video conference almost daily and it works great for me. Provided you have a fast Internet connection, video conference really does work well. The audio quality is better than the telephone and the video, while not high resolution, is more than adequate. And the price is right as you get it all for free. I have tried to make this page concise and printer-friendly.
NetMeeting & Linux. Netmeeting is compatible with Ekiga Softphone which runs on Linux so that is another point in its favor of both. I have not tried Ekiga but it is one point in favor of trying Linux.
We shall see later that you can have a meeting of more than two people (computers) but, for now, we shall start by setting up a meeting of only two computers.
For video conference you will need a microphone and a webcam connected to the computer. I have tried a few web-cams and found out that "better" does not equal "better for NetMeeting" and I believe this has to do with the drivers. Some high quality, high-resolution cameras work poorly with NM while some cheap cameras work quite well. I have had good luck with web cams from ANUBIS Electronic GmbH. They are marketed under different brands like Typhoon or Silvercrest but they seem to have the same software drivers and work well with NM.
I believe all those names represent the same product under different brands but I cannot be certain. I got mine in a store for 15 euros and that is about what it costs from Amazon. Mine came with some neat software which allows things like motion detection, recording clips etc. I have bought other models from this importer and they also worked well so I assume they might share the same drivers. Specifically, the Typhoon Stylocam 350 works fine as a webcam and it can also be used as a separate snapshot camera. On the other hand, I have tried some Logitech models and, while they do work, the quality of the video is not as good (even though they are more expensive). Logitech misrepresent the specs of their products and I do not recommend them. My thinking is that a webcam is worth about $12 to $20 and any model will work reasonably well. If you are lucky you well get one like mine which has good contrast and picture quality. If you are not so lucky you will get one which is not so good but will still work reasonably well. I do not recommend you spend more than $20 on a webcam as it is no guarantee that it will work better.
I recommend using a headset with earphones and microphone as it is more comfortable and will give you the best results. You can use the loudspeakers but this often results in the sound being fed back to the sender through the microphone which results in an extremely annoying delayed echo. Still, in my bedroom I have an amplified microphone and speakers set up in such way that I can speak softly from anywhere in the room and the microphone picks it up flawlessly. I can chat while I am lying in bed without need to use headphones.
General configuration Tools - options - general
So now that you have your hardware set up, let's get started. When you first start up NM it will propose to configure some things. You can do this but you can always go back later and make changes so it is not crucial that you get it right the first time. I will skip that first configuration and go to the menu choices where you can configure the same things.
The information you put in the section "My directory information" is what your correspondents will see and it does not affect how NM works in any way. You can put anything there.
In the section "Directory settings" do NOT check the box labeled "Log on to a directory. . ." These directory servers were called Internet Locator Service (ILS) directories and you could log on so people could find you but they were abused and have pretty much disappeared although you can still find a few, mostly full of porn and spam, for instance here. If you check this box you will get an error that the directory cannot be found. NM will work all the same but by not checking this box you avoid the error message.
The check box "Run NM in the background when Windows starts" is self-explanatory. Personally I prefer to start NM manually so I leave it unchecked. The check box "Show the NM icon on the taskbar" is also self-explanatory. I do not have it checked.
In Bandwidth Settings you should check the speed of your connection. While NM will work over dialup speeds, you should expect slow video and choppy audio which can be frustrating. With ADLS speed at both ends I have found NM to be very satisfactory in both video and audio.
Security configuration Tools - options - security
No need to change anything here for now. You can use encryption for data if you like but I have not tried this yet. I will report here if and when I do.
Audio configuration Tools - options - sound
In the General section I have checked "enable full duplex" and "enable auto gain" while not checked "automatically adjust microphone volume" or "enable direct sound". I have not really tested the different options because the defaults seem to work fine.
The tuning wizard allows you to adjust the volume control of the microphone and is the same one you got the first time you started NM and the same one you get from Tools - Audio tuning wizard.
Audio problems due to configuration problems are quite common. First check that the audio wizard shows the microphone is indeed recording sound. If nothing moves there then you need to go to the Windows audio control panel and make sure the microphone is selected as the audio input.
In "advanced" I have not checked "manually configure. . .". Checking this would allow NM to use other codecs rather than the default G723 codec. This is only for advanced tinkering users.
In "silence detection" I have checked "adjust silence detection automatically". I have not really tested the different options because the defaults seem to work fine.
When you are in a call you can see if you are sending audio. If the visual meter moves when you talk, then you are sending audio and the problem is at the other end.
I have observed some quirky things at times. Some times, if you do not send audio for a while then, even when you talk, the other party cannot hear you. The audio connection is interrupted after a while of not using it. This is easily remedied by hanging up and calling again. This is not due to NM but to the firewall or router closing the port used for audio after a while of non usage.
Also, if you seem to be having problems connecting with the audio or video, try disconnecting the call and have the call receiver do the calling this time. I have found out that some times the router or firewall will not let packets to a certain port through but after a couple of attempts both ways, the router or firewall learn that my program is trying to communicate with the other program and will let the packets through. This is not only true for NM but also for other programs like ICQ phone.
Video configuration Tools - options - video
The same thing sometimes happens with the video: it seems to work better both ways if both are sending video. It should be possible for only one side to send video but I have found out that when you are behind firewalls and/or routers, it works better if both are sending video. For this reason, I have checked the boxes "automatically send video" and "automatically receive video" in this section.
I have found out that configuring the video works best if the video is active so, before you continue, go to the menu and check "view - my video". A new window opens and you can check the button on the lower part and you should see your own video there.
In the send image size you have three choices although "large" may be grayed out if the web-cam drivers do not support it. I have found it is the drivers and not the camera itself which cause this problem. If the connection is a bit slow or the camera or drivers are not the best suited, then medium size might work better than large. Also, it is worth noting that, if your bandwidth is limited then the more bandwidth you demand for video, the less that will be left for audio which will make the audio choppy. While you can live with choppy video, I find choppy audio to be very annoying, to the point where it is not worth using the video conference.
In receive video quality you can set the slider to faster video (lower quality) or slower video with higher quality.
In the section "video camera properties" you can select the video source and configure it. This only works well if the camera is active as I said before. if you have more than one webcam here you can choose which one to use. I have a minor problem here and it is that I have a TV card installed in my computer and when I go to this pull-down list, the TV card is always selected by default so I have to select the USB webcam every time. While the camera configuration will probably have some default automatic settings, you can change these settings if you click on "source".
Setting up the video-conference call
Now let us talk about the mechanics of establishing a connection. It used to be that you would log into an ILS server, find the name of the person you were looking for, clicked on that name and NM would take care of setting up the connection. ILS servers had some technical problems and were being abused so Microsoft closed their ILS servers down. There may still be a few around but some require payment and, in any case, they are not as popular or as widespread as they used to be. You can check out http://www.netmeetinghq.com/.
Now I find it easier to set up the call manually which is not difficult if you understand what you are doing. Another layer of complication arises if you are behind a router and/or firewall. If you understand these issues you should be able to get NM to work correctly for you. Let us start with the simplest case and progress from there to more complex cases.
Suppose you and your correspondent's computers are connected directly to the Internet. That is to say, both have public IP addresses and have no proxy servers, routers or firewalls separating them from the Internet. You can start the call by typing the IP address, in the form x.x.x.x, in the address line in the upper part of the window. Then you click on the call telephone icon on the right and that initiates the call. If everything goes well, the other computer receives the call and the other user can accept it or reject it. To end the call you click on the hang up button just below it.
If you click on the drop down menu button at the right end of the address line, you will get a choice of addresses you have called in the past. This is useful if you call a static IP address often or if you call other computers on your own LAN (yes, this can be done and is useful too, as we shall see).
If you check the menu option "Call - automatically accept calls", then calls received will be accepted automatically. This might not be a good idea when you were logged into a public directory and anyone could call you but I have it checked now because I know I want to accept the calls of people who would call me. I have found a strange glitch in that in some computers NM will remember if this box was checked while in other computers I have to check it every time I start NM. I am not sure if this is related to the computer or to the version of NM.
So, basically, all you need to do is tell NM what IP address to call. But how do you find out the IP address of the person you are trying to call? (This is what the ILS servers would automatically do for you in the past.) Easy. You can find out your own IP address with several Windows programs. In NM you can go to HELP - ABOUT and you will find your IP address at the bottom of the window. Then you can trade IP addresses by email, ICQ, etc. to set up the NM call. Other tools you can use to find out your IP address are ipconfig.exe or netstat.exe in a DOS window or winipcfg.exe in Start - Run. There are also web sites which will give you your IP address like http://www.whatismyip.com/, or http://www.dslreports.com/whois, or http://www.adslayuda.com/ip.php.
Of course, it helps if you have a static IP address, like I do. As it does not change, then my friends can call me without having to first find out what my address is. In fact, if you often call someone who has a static IP address you can create a shortcut on your desktop and call your friend by just clicking on the shortcut. Right-click on the desktop and select "new shortcut". In "command line" type callto:x.x.x.x where x.x.x.x is the IP address to call. Then name the shortcut "call Joe" or whatever you want. Then, just double click on the shortcut and it should open NM and initiate the call. If it launches some other conference program, it means Windows has associated the callto with that program and the association can be changed back to NM.
An HTML web page can also have a link to call such as Call Joe. This should launch NM and initiate the call (the IP address in this example is a local IP address which will not work through the Internet).
The desktop shortcut and/or the HTML page can be opened with Notepad and the IP address edited. I am thinking that it should be possible to have a program or script which would automate the task of updating it for dynamic IP addresses. I would welcome any help in this idea as it would make things simpler for those who are not familiar with computers. The idea would be to have a script running in one computer and this script would determine the IP address of that computer and update in the file. For example, it could use FTP to update the address in the above link each time Joe's IP address changed.
Configuring firewalls and routers
If you are using a firewall (as you should), then you should make sure the firewall will allow NM packets to get through. I use Zonealarm, which I heartily recommend, and I have no problems in this respect. I do not know much about the firewall which comes with Windows XP but I do not recommend it as I do know Zonealarm offers better protection. My recommendation is to disable it and install Zonealarm in its place. Zonealarm offers better protection and is generally intelligent enough to allow the right packets through. As I said, if you seem to have problems connecting at first, try calling back and forth a couple of times from each end. Sometimes this does the trick.
If your computer is not connected directly to the Internet but is connected to a local area network (LAN) which is in turn connected to the Internet, then we may run into some glitches which we need to resolve. This is my case now. If NM tells you that your IP address is a private address, not a global one, then you know you are connected to a LAN. Addresses which begin with 192.168. X.X or with 10.X.X.X are private addresses and then you know you are on a local network, not on the wide Internet.
If you are behind a router doing Network Address Translation (NAT) then probably you can place outgoing calls without problem but you may have problems receiving calls. NM uses port 1720 to set up the audio and video connections but when the router between the LAN and the Internet receives a packet for port 1720, it does not know what to do with it and drops it. All you have to do to solve this problem is to configure your router to forward packets addressed to port 1720 to whatever computer you want to receive the NM calls.
At the page linked for port 1720 it says
I guess I got lucky because I am using a Speedstream 5600 modem/router and I have no problem using NM with it. I have four computers connected in my local network. I can configure the router to forward port 1720 to whatever computer I choose and so I can receive NM calls in the computer of my choice (but only one can be chosen). So forward port 1720 to local address 192.168.0.33 sends the request to the computer in the living room while forward port 1720 to local address 192.168.0.25 sends it to the computer in the kitchen.
NetMeeting calls are really two calls in parallel - an H.323 one and a T.120 one -- either of which can be connected independently. The H.323 part of the call is established first in a "normal" NetMeeting call. TCP port 1720 is the H.323 port -- used to establish audio/video connection and negotiate UDP ports for audio/video transfer. TCP port 1503 is the T.120 port -- T.120 is used for all data operations in NetMeeting (file transfer, whiteboard, application sharing and chat) functions. These two static ports are used to setup the respective connections and then go on to allocate dynamically other ports for actual data transmission.
When you use NetMeeting to call other users, several TCP and UDP ports are required to establish the connection. The following table shows the used TCP/UDP port numbers and their functions:
It is important to note that the H.323 call setup protocol (TCP port 1720) dynamically negotiates a TCP port used by the H.323 call control protocol. Also, both the audio call control protocol (TCP port 1731) and the H.323 call setup protocol (TCP port 1720) dynamically negotiate UDP ports for use by the H.323 streaming protocol (RTP). Moreover, all TCP connections are outbound, viewed from the calling H.323 endpoint.
Port 1720 is used to set up the voice and video parts while port 1503 is used to set up the whiteboard, chat, file transfers and other services. If you are behind a router and need to receive requests for these services, then you should also configure the router to forward port 1503 to whatever computer you are using.
If you are on a LAN, behind a router, and want to initiate the whiteboard, chat, file transfers and other services, then you need to make sure your outgoing requests get forwarded. For this you need to go to the menu option "tools - options - general advanced calling - gateway settings" and check the box "use a gateway etc". In the gateway address you will type the same gateway address which is in your LAN connection. If your LAN address is in the form 192.168.0.X then you can expect that the router gateway address is 192.168.0.1. This tells NM to send the request to the router at that address so it can send it out to the Internet.
In summary: if you are behind a router doing NAT, then all you need to do for everything to work in both directions is :
Once the call has been set up and you are connected, you should be able to see and hear the other side. If you have checked the menu option "view - my video in new window" then you will see your own video in one window and the other computer's video in the main NM window. Instead, you can clcik the "picture in picture" button and you will see your own video in the corner of the main video window. By clicking on the "start/stop video" you can start or stop sending video. This is useful if you want to free some bandwidth for a file transfer or other purpose or if you just want to pick your nose without grossing out someone half way around the world.
Good lighting makes a big difference in picture quality so try to have good, diffuse lighting. Facing a window with daylight usually works well. Other than that try to have several lamps from several directions. The stronger and more diffuse the lighting, the better. You can also try to adjust the camera controls manually by going to "tools - options- video - video camera properties - source" but, in my experience, good lighting is what makes the big difference.
Place the microphone near your mouth but to the side so that the puffs of air and your breathing do not hit it directly. You can adjust outgoing and incoming audio levels with the audio slider controls in the main window. If when you talk you see the meter line moving to the right, that means you are sending audio and if the other side does not hear you the problem is with them, not yours. Similarly, if you see the received audio meter line moving, that means you are receiving audio and if you cannot hear it the problem is with your computer's audio configuration. The checkboxes allow you to mute your audio or the other party's audio.
Signals take a fraction of a second to travel over the Internet and it takes a bit to get used to the delay. After you ask a question, you need to wait a second before you start hearing the other side. If you are impatient and start talking then you'll both be talking at the same time. Once you get used to it this delay is not much noticeable. It is longer in transatlantic or transpacific communications but still not as bad as when phone calls were routed over satellite links.
This section covers the audio and video features. In the following sections we shall see other features which make NM particularly useful.
Click on the file transfer button, or go to "tools - file transfer" in the menu, or just hit CTRL-F and the file transfer window will open. After a few seconds it will say it is connected. If this does not happen it means it is having problems due to firewall or router issues discussed above. The buttons in that window are (a) Add files to send, (b) remove files from the list, (c) send files, (d) stop sending files and (e) view received files. Received files are placed in the "netmeeting\received files" folder and can easily also be found with Windows Explorer. In the list to the right you can choose the recipient of the files you are sending if there is more than one other person (computer) in the meeting.
Click on the Whiteboard button, or go to the "tools - whiteboard" menu option, or type CTRL-W and the whiteboard window will pop up. It will take a few seconds to connect to the other computer and you will see in the bar it will say "Using whiteboard with 1 others". Again, if it does not connect it is probably due to firewall or router configuration problems. Once it is connected both users can draw and both will see everything drawn on the common whiteboard which can later be saved. This is a very useful feature when you are discussing something where drawings help. MSN Messenger does not have this feature and just this is enough to make NM a superior alternative.
Click on the chat button, or go to the "tools - chat" menu option, or type CTRL-T and you will see the chat window pop open. Again, it will take a few seconds to connect with the other side's chat window and if it doesn't then you should check the firewall and router configuration. This window is useful when you want to spell something out or write a number or email etc. You can choose to send the text to all in the meeting or only to one of your choice.
Click on the "program sharing" button or on the "tools - program sharing" option, or type CTRL-S and you will get the program sharing window. This can be very useful but I do not recommend it for beginners. You get a choice of all the programs you have currently running and you can select one to share with the other party. Then the other party can see that window and control the mouse and keyboard like he is using your own computer. The one recommendation I would make is to move the cursor very slowly as there is a delay and if you try to go too fast then the cursor jumps around wildly. You can share any program you are currently running and this includes the desktop. Again, this can be useful when I am helping someone with their own computer but be careful with this feature and who you allow to use it.
NetMeeting Remote Desktop Sharing
This is a very distinct and different feature, almost like a different program, and you do not need to know how to use it in order to use the video conference. Likewise, you can learn to use this feature separately from the other NM features. The Remote Desktop Sharing is a powerful tool for accesing a computer over a local network or the Internet but, again, be careful when considering who you will grant access to your computer. This is a really powerful feature which is also missing in MSN Messenger although it is built in as a feature of Windows XP PRO (not in XP Home).
Comparing NM Remote Desktop with Win-XP Remote Desktop
Here are some points of comparison.
Setting up the computer to be remotely controlled
In the menu go to "tools - remote desktop sharing" and you will get the setup wizard which, if you are running WIN98 will ask you to set a password. Make sure you make a note of it because if you forget it you will not be able to recover it. Don't say I didn't warn you. Well, you can reset the password by tweaking the register but be sure you iknow what you are doing before you do this. Delete the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Conferencing\Mcpt registry key to reset the Remote Desktop Sharing feature, including the password.
When you configure this feature you can set a screen which will show in your display so you know you cannot use your mouse or your screen. This can be useful but I prefer to see what's going on. While someone else has control of my computer I lose control of the mouse and keyboard but I want to see what's happening.
Once you have set this up, you check the box "enable remote desktop sharing" and after you close down NM you will see the NM icon in the system tray. You can right-click on this icon to enable or disable the Remote Desktop Sharing.
Connecting from a remote computer
When it is enabled I can then call from NM running in another computer. I go to "call - new call" in the menu or type CTRL-N and a window pops open. I type there the IP address, leave "using automatic" and check the box "require security for this call".
If the computer receiving the call is running WIN98 then it will require a password which was set in NM as explained above. If the computer receiving the call is running WIN-XP then you need to log on as a valid user with user name and account password. These are set globally in XP and not especifically for NM.
After I enter the correct password I should see the remote desktop and have control of the cursor and keyboard. As I said before, move the cursor very slowly at first until you get the hang of it or it will jump wildly all over the place. The reaction time depends mainly on the connection delay. When I connect to my computer at home from the office across town I get a very fast connection and I can work with my computer at home just as if I was sitting in front of it. On the other hand, if I am in China, half way around the world, with a very slow connection, then I need to be very patient and go very slowly.
. . . (to be continued)
Microsoft Netmeeting Support
Microsoft Netmeeting Support (2)
Using Netmeeting as a Help Desk tool - ISAserver.com
Cisco: Understanding H.323 Gatekeepers
This page last changed 2007-11-22 to add information about NM & Vista