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Skype and the crashing camcorder

Reader Dave Eng can't seem to broadcast his mug over the Internet. He writes:

Every so often I use Skype for multi-participant video conferences and when I do, I use my FireWire DV camcorder rather than my Mac's built-in camera. I launched Skype the other day and it immediately crashed when I switched on my camera. I restarted my Mac, reinstalled Skype, but the same thing happened every time. What's going on?

The current version of Skype (at least as I write this) has a bug that causes it to explode (okay, without the fire, smoke, and noise) when you connect a FireWire camcorder to your Mac and switch it on. The folks at Skype are aware of the issue but the most recent updates haven't fixed the problem.

In the meantime, Oldapps.com has the most recent version that is compatible--Skype 6.0.0.2946. Just toss out your current copy of Skype, install this one, and Skype should behave itself. (And no, you won't lose any of your settings or contacts by installing the earlier version.)

And, for those reading along, why would you use a camcorder rather than the Mac's perfectly fine built-in camera? If your Mac doesn't have a camera--you're using a Mac mini or Mac Pro, for example--an add-on camera is a requirement. A camcorder is going to offer better quality, plus they have optical zoom capabilities that you can manipulate with a remote control. (Though you can use Ecamm Network's $20 iGlasses 3 to add digital zoom--and a lot of other effects--to the Mac's built-in camera.) And although you probably could with a long hunk of duct tape, mounting a laptop on a tripod for the best camera placement isn't a convenient option.

A lot of people have old camcorders and tripods gathering dust that could be put to good use when employed during video chats. Setting them up is simple. Mount the camcorder so that it's facing you. String the FireWire cable between your camcorder and the Mac (or to a Thunderbolt-to-FireWire adapter if you Mac lacks a FireWire port). Switch the camcorder to the Camera setting. (Some camcorders will put themselves to sleep if they either do or don't have a tape loaded--experiment with yours to see which makes it happiest.) Launch the application you'll be using for the chat and in the application's audio/video preferences choose the external camera. (I prefer using an external microphone as well, place just out of the picture frame.)

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