On some level, video chats still seem futuristic, even though they’re available, for free, to anyone with a smartphone or similar internet-connected device. In a matter of minutes, you can be visually and audibly connected to anyone in the world, and apps like Skype and Google Hangouts keep rolling out new features that make their chat platforms even more user-friendly.
However, video call technology still isn’t perfect, and there’s a lot that can go wrong in a session. When you’re catching up with Aunt Gertie, that’s not a major cause for concern, but if you’re in the middle of an important presentation, or if you’re in the middle of a client call, the last thing you want is to experience an issue.
So what are the biggest pain points of video call technology, and how can we solve them?
The Current Range of Video Call Issues
As Vyopta illustrates in its troubleshooting guide on the subject, video call problems usually stem from one of four main areas:
- Network issues. Depending on the device and app you’re using, your problems could be a result of a lagging or unavailable network, such as your Wi-Fi being temporarily unavailable, or your cellular network being bogged down.
- End-user issues. Nobody’s perfect. The problem might be in how you have the app set up, or how you’re operating your device.
- AV equipment issues. If there’s something inherently wrong with your computer, your microphone, or your camera, your video call won’t work properly.
- Video provider issues. There might also be a problem with the software you’re using, especially if you don’t have the latest version installed.
Ultimately, these can result in problems that include:
- Video disturbances. The video you see may be glitchy, blurry, or may freeze entirely. Usually, this is because the network can’t support the flow of data. Network providers are always pushing to make bandwidth more available, but with the rise in high-definition streaming and app availability, it’s hard to keep up without a bandwidth cap, or without some kind of drop in streaming quality.
- Audio disturbances. In the same way your video can be disturbed, your audio stream can be disturbed. Your correspondent’s voice may sound garbled or unintelligible, and the audio may cut in and out. Usually, this is due to a network issue.
- Dropped calls. Network issues are also responsible for the majority of dropped calls, though user errors and device failures may also play a part. Here, both the audio and video drop out immediately, and users are disconnected. This is especially frustrating if you’re in the middle of a presentation.
- If two users are geographically distant, there will likely be some delay in the transmission of audio and video. Unfortunately, this is a characteristic that is unlikely to go away even with better, more advanced technology. If it takes a signal just a few extra milliseconds to travel to your device, the end result is a noticeable delay in conversation.
- Syncing issues. Usually attributable to a problem with the video provider or your specific device, you may also experience issues with the audio syncing with the video. Thankfully, this problem is merely superficial, as you’ll still get the full audio and video content—just not at the exact same time.
- Learning curve problems. Depending on who you’re calling and how you’re calling them, you may experience some “learning curve” difficulties. For example, if you’re trying to introduce someone to video calling for the first time, it’s unlikely that they’ll pick up the basics intuitively. You’ll need to walk them through the steps of downloading and setting up the app, which can take a significant amount of time—and still result in a dropped call or another mistake.
- App exclusivity. There are several dozen strong video chatting app contenders, all of which offer comparable video resolution, connection speeds, and availability. However, it’s impossible for one app to connect to another; if you’re used to Skype and your friend is used to FaceTime, you’re going to have a compatibility issue. Granted, this is a small problem, but it still makes it difficult to connect with the people you need.
Can Video Calling Be Perfected?
Video calling has its share of potential issues, but it’s still one of the best mediums we have; it offers the remote capabilities of a standard phone call, with the presence of facial expressions and body language to create a more personal experience. With so many people relying on video chat today, is it possible that someday all of these issues will be resolved, and video chatting will be perfect?
The answer is a resounding “probably not.” Older technology, like pure audio phone calls, still have quality issues to iron out, and it’s unlikely that video conferencing providers will ever be able to fully resolve the user-centric issues that make video chatting hard to approach. For now, the best you can do is recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the medium, and compensate for the weaknesses as best you can.