iChat 5 How-tos

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iChat 5: How-Tos Base Page

There is little change from iChat 4 to iChat 5 that comes with Snow Leopard that if you have Updated your Intel Mac computer to Snow Leopard then iChat will be easy for you.

If, on the other hand you have never used iChat before this page and the ones it links to are the places to Start.

First though the Quick Links iChat 5, Pictures and How-tos in the other iChat 5 Section of this site.


Menu For the Different How-to pages



Video and Audio Specifics

Potted History

iChat 2 Introduced the Application to Audio and Video Chats for G3/600Mghz computers upwards. iChat 3 brought up to 4 people in Video Chats and 10 People in a Audio chat. The cut off for the Multi-way Video chat was a G4/1Ghz Dual Processor.

The Default camera to use during this period was the External iSight that has since been taken off the market. However an USB 1.1 camera with drivers for your Mac and OS version plus a utility now called iUSBCam ccould make a USB camera work. You could and can still use a Firewaire able DV camcorder. There are issues with certain USB 2.0 cameras if you Mac has a USB 2.0 capability that can cause issues about obtaining a Mac Driver for it. I will revisit Exceptions lower down.

Late in the life of iChat 3 (And therfore Tiger (10.4.x) Apple introduced a USB Video Class Driver (UVC) to work with UVC compliant cameras at OS 10.4.9. This was just prior to the MacBook and MacBook Pro Intels with their Internal iSight (USB) cameras.

iChat 4 came with Leopard and most of the Mac range was Intel Processors and internal iSights by this time with Mac Minis and Mac Pros being the exceptions to having cameras. iChat 4 introduced Video Effects and Backdrops that could be also used with Photo Booth and also Recording Chats.

Most Macs have Internal Microphones but external ones can be used including those on Cameras like the external iSight and Camcorders. Those Macs that do not have Mics should use either USB ones or a suitable Hi-line Level mic (The Audio Line-in on a Mac needs the Mic or source to be of a suitable level - basically preamped - to be "heard" properly. Common PC mics are Lo-Line input devices).

iChat 5 is Intel only. Little has changed from the above in the basic functions of iChat. With two exceptions all Macs come with Intermal iSights as do most Display Screens Apple sell. The same applies to mics.

Anyways, On with the How To.

Starting Chats and other Contorls

Menu Bar Control

There are three menus that control your ability to and/or start Video or Audio Only chats and one other Menu Bar option to start one.

The Menu to the right of Buddies - Audio or Video
Video menu

This menu will display as Audio if you only have a Microphone. It will display Video if it sees a suitable camera.

iChat 4 came when many Macs have Internal iSight cameras. These are in fact USB driven devices. If you plug in a Firewire camera this will override the Internal Camera as first choice in the iChat Preferences > Video section in a Camera drop down that will then appear if you have two cameras.

See the Exceptions item below for more info.

In the Video Menu both the Enable items need to be selected with a Tick to be "On" (Selecting the items toggle them On of Off).

There are additonal controls. Mute silences the Mic but sends an audio signal so the chat does not fail. Pause Video does a similar job for the Video Stream. Full Screen makes a Video Chat take up the whole screen. The actual Video Chat Window has a similar control which in Full Screen will return to the previous size.

Take Snapshot works in Video chats and in the Preview (Click your own Video icon at the top of the Buddy List). They are saved as "VideoSnaphots" with a number if more than one and placed on the Desktop like a Screen Shot.

Record Chat needs your Buddy to Accept as a little invite box appears at their end. The Chat window then has a Red dot in the window and the Menu Bar shows you an icon as well.

Hide Local Video removes the Pic-in-Pic of your camera's view. I find it useful not to remove it to remind myself that I can still be seen.

The View Menu

View Menu

This menu needs the Show Audio Status and Show Video Status to be selected for you to see the relevant Green icons in the Buddy list.

For Buddies with iChat 3, 4 or 5 that can also do multi-chats the icons appear Stacked Video Stacked icon or Layered Audio Stacked icon

If you turn them Off the Buddy List will be slightly shorter as the icons tend to make the line for the individual Buddies deeper - but not having them means that starting from the Buddy List then needs you to highlight the Buddy and use the icons at the bottom of the Buddy List (Or start from the Buddies menu or Right/Control Click a Buddy for the similar Contextual menu).

The Menu Bar Icon itself

You need to have the option to display this icon turned on in the General Section of the iChat Prefernces. When iChat is launched this will show the Buddies listed by the last but one section choice (All Available AIM valid Buddies or all Available Jabber/GoogleTalk Buddies from multiple Buddies lists or all your Bonjour one showing the Available Status). From here you can select a Buddy.

A Dialogue Box appears with drop downs to select which Account/Screen Name you are going to use and the type of chat to start. The Buddy's Name is Pre-filled if you use this route.

File Menu route

You can also start from the File Menu > New Chat option. This opens the Dialogue box shown above but as you can see the "To:" text field in not filled in. However Buddies can be dragged from the Buddy List to this field.

More on Starting chats below.

Other areas that Control Audio or Video

The iChat Preferences

Video PrefsClear gif

In the iChat Preferences > Audio/Video section you get to choose the Microphone in a drop down and an extra drop down will appear if you have two or more cameras. If you have no camera the space where my Pic is will be a grey square telling you there is no camera.

The Microphone drop down may well show the Line-in option even if nothing is attached. The Microphone choice here must match the Input device selected in System Preferences > Sound > Input tab.

If you have a camera that is Always On like the external iSight one tended to be, then there is an option here to make that start up iChat. It is a useful feature as it will also make you Login to AIM if you lose the Login connection like a auto re-login.

Bandwidth Limit is a drop down with various speed settings and a NONE option. At NONE iChat 5 will "See" your whole Internet Connection. This may need reducing if your upload speed is very fast (over 500kbps) as iChat will send this fast and your Buddies may note cope if they are slower. Start with 500kbps and then 200kbps if you have problems.

Summary So far

  1. You need a suitable Mac.
  2. A Firewire or UVC compliant USB Camera of some sort. (Exceptions to follow)
  3. A suitable Mic if you don't have an Internal one
  4. To have the Menus involved set correctly
  5. To have the iChat Preferences and the System Preferences > Sound items to match the Microphone choice.
  6. If you have a Second camera to have the camera choice made.
  7. Possibly set the Bandwidth to a lower setting.

Camera Exceptions

By default the Camera input was designed to be the External iSight and this had a DV format.

Any other DV Firewire web cam or even a DV Camcorder over Firewire will work with no further drivers.

Any USB 1.1 camera can be made to work with iChat. It needs a Mac Driver and the Utility from Ecamm now called iUSBCam (Previously iChatUSBCam). The Ecamm site includes a Camera Guide page with two tables to match current and older cameras to Driver pages. However this Utility is no longer supported in Snow Leopard/iChat 5 so USB 1.1 cameras are not useful to you.

Care should be taken in buying an external camera if using iChat 5 as many cameras are now USB 2.0 and these, if "Vista Certified"/UVC Compliant tend not to have specific Mac drivers. Since OS10.4.9, a generic USB 2 camera driver for USB Video Class compatible cameras which "Vista Certified" means has been included.

To be clearer. The UVC Compliant cameras received a big push in marketing at the time Vista came out. Many still carry this "Vista Certified" or more recently Windows 7 compatible marking to packaging rather than plainly saying UVC Compliant. I bought mine at PC World in the UK and convinced them to allow me to test one on a Mac in their Show Room before I bought it.

Having said this though not All USB 2.0 cameras are UVC compliant but it almost impossible to find drivers for these

This generic USB 2.0 UVC driver is not a driver for USB 1.1 cameras or for those that are not UVC compliant.

To restate. A USB camera can fall into to three categories:-

  1. USB 1.1 needing Mac Specific drivers. (Not Suitable for iChat 5)
  2. USB 2.0 but not USB Video Class (UVC) Compliant - needing Mac Drivers (which are Impossible to find)
  3. USB 2.0 UVC compliant but will only work in OS 10.4.9 and above (which includes Snow Leopard at 10.6.x).

Analogue Camcorders and Stills cameras with a TV or other non DV output can be made to work with a DV Converter. However these are several times the price of a Web Camera but may be an option if you wish to get other Video in to iMovie, for instance, as well.

Starting Chats: Ways and Means

Video Invite Send

This is much like starting a Text Chat in that you can click on the green icon your Buddy has in the Buddy list.

When this is Video Chat you see this from your end with the "Waiting for Response from ..." Message across the top. When they click Accept at their end it will change to "Starting Chat with..."


Visible Invite

In turn your Buddy see this Window in the top, middle of his screen floating over other windows, which he can choose to Click to Accept or Deny a Response once he has clicked on it to deal with it. (It expands from the view above to show buttons)

Video Chat in Progress

A successful chat then will then resolve into this Chat WIndow where your Preview shrinks to become the Picture-in-Picture.

This particular Chat was over Bonjour between my two Macs so that they are two views of me which is a bit confusing. (this and the following picture are from iChat 4 hence the Effects Buttons. But iChat is consistent with this across all A/V versions).

However note the orientation of the Pic -in-Pic. My view of myself is as if I was in a Mirror (My pipe is on the "other" side). This is a feature of iChat compared to other Video able messengers.

I have also increased the size of the Pic-in-Pic to demonstrate it. In percentage terms it can be as big as this, a quarter of the Picture or as small as a 1/16th.

I have an extra button on the bottom as I am running an Add-on called Showmacster and this arrow like icon on the right controls the Pop out drawer it has.

3 way Invite

More Buddies.

Just click on another Buddies Video icon and they will be added to the chat. The window slides your current Buddy to one side and adds a Spotlight area until they are connected.

The bottom part of the window becomes like a shiny black table top reflecting what is in the Incoming Video. In 4-way chats each person sees everyone as if they were sitting round a table, so the person on your right will see the person on your left as their person "direclty" oppsite or top if you prefer of their Chat window.

End Chat Message

When a chat is ended it will also have a message across the top if you were not the person to end it with the red Button (top Left of Chat Window). The Picture-in-Picture disappears and you see the last Video frame sent as the picture. As you can see the Buddy view is switched to the correct way round. The background and my pipe are on the other sides, in this Pic grabbed on my MacBook Pro, compared to the Pic-in-Pic (and Previews) I see on the G4. (And there is no Showmacster Button in the bottom bar).

For you to End the Chat

Just click the Red button to close that window. There is also the File Menu > Close Window option.

Connection Doctor with Error

If the Chat fails with an Error message a brief version appears where the previous pic says "Ralph G4 has left the Video Chat." Longer versions of any Error message appear in the Connection Doctor from the Video (or Audio) menu.

Mesages can vary and sometimes produce a pop up to Send to Apple or not. There is also a Details Reveal Triangle for a really long version of any issues. See here for more on that.

What the Log says can be interpreted with a bit of experience to say what or where the problem lies (See the link in the paragraph above). As you can see the header line of a following Error is just visible and the area is scrollable in the Connection Doctor shorter version in the pic.

Old Logs are stored in your Home Folder/Library/Logs/iChatConnectionErrors by date and time and can be read in Console (Just Double click one)

More on the Connection Doctor

During a successful chat the Statisics tab shows your Frame and Bitrates followed by your Buddies and then a graphical representation of the Audio and Video feeds in percentage terms. Most times it will just read 100% and show Green but it can drop off to yellow then red and then nothing if there is a Problem from their end.

Audio Chats

These are exactly the same except for the moving picture element. You do get to see how Loud you appear when talking though. The Visible part of the Invite appears slightly more right of Center but still at the top of the Screen.

Window Positions

The Picture-in-Picture is always in one corner in One-to-One Video chats. It can be dragged anywhere within the chat window but when you let go it will go to the nearest corner. In 3 way and 4 way chats you become the bottom picture or "south" of the table.

Outgoing chats, whether Audio only or Video will always place the window wherever you had the Last outgoing chat of that type.

Incoming Invites always appear on the same place on the screen and the Chat initially is in the same position so Incoming Video chats are Top Center and Audio Chats are Top Right. Both can be moved to where it is more convenient such as Video chats as close to where the camera is, so that you appear to be looking at it more.

Screen Sharing

This is still fairly new to some people. It started in IChat 4 and continues in iChat 5. I am placing it here as it is closely related to A/V Chats. In fact if you cannot at least get an Audio Chat to work to a Buddy you will not be able to Screen Share to or from them.

A Screen Share uses the Apple Remote Desktop engine. It consists of the "Desktop as Video" part and an Audio chat alongside. It takes place over two ports over the internet to do this. The Audio chat, by default, is on port 16402 and the VNC connection for the Screen Share is on a random port. This in turn may mean some changes to your routing device to allow this as the random port cannot be Port Forwarded. Using UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) is best.

If you are sharing someone else's Screen your own Screen appears as a Pic In Pic but is not subject to the "Remove Local Video" Option in the Video Menu.

To Start

Use the icon at the bottom of the Buddy List after highlighting a Buddy (it will "convert" and active A/V chat).

You get a choice to Share your own Screen (Demomstrate) or Share that of your Buddy's (Control their screen). Obviously if you ar Sharing your Screen the Buddy can Control your Computer (access anywhere, any app and file you can) if you let them.

To End

If you are the one sharing your Screen then the Menu bar displays a flashing Red icon similar to the one at the bottom of the Buddy List. Click this and End Share.

A quick way is to click the CMD /Apple ( or ⌘) Key and ESC together. This also works if you are Sharing your Buddies Screen no matter who did the Inviting.

Back to: iChat 5, or Pictures


© Ralph Johns June 2010



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Information Block

About This Page

This is a somewhat long page on items that are specific to Audio and Video Chats. This looks again at the Menus involved in controlling the camera or Microphone and the exceptions to Cameras that might be needed now External iSights are no longer available.

As iChat can remember the position of Windows and this may be of more use to you in holding Video chat I have included the information about that here at the end.

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