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Tips to Improve Voice and Video Call Quality on Skype, Google Voice, and Similar Services

Even the most enduring of cynics must recognize by now that Skype is much more than the cute little video gadget it started out as. With a full set of robust features and functionality that rivals major telecoms—perhaps even surpasses them when video conferencing is taken into account—it’s no wonder many professionals and entrepreneurs have already made it their telephony solution of choice.

What follows equally applies to other VoIP and video service providers, such as Google Voice, iChat, etc.

One thing that might keep more businesses from adopting a similar approach is concerns over consistency and reliability of service. If a home user can tolerate moderate interruptions while chatting with family or friends, a business owner certainly cannot—after all, a dropped call might mean the loss of a customer .

Luckily, by understanding the technology and following a few simple tips, you can eliminate interruptions and ensure the best possible experience for yourself and your clients.

Before we start, Yahoo News featured a great video demonstrating some of the concepts we’ll be discussing. If you’re the ‘seeing is believing’ type, you’ll definitely enjoy their presentation.

Voice quality

There are three common issues when it comes to voice quality: echo, background noise, and distortions (robotic sound/delays/drop-outs/etc)


Echo results when a microphone on one end of the conversation picks up unintended sounds from the other (such as the other person speaking) via the speakers. So the key to reducing or eliminating echo is ensuring your speakers aren’t ‘heard’ by your microphone. This can be done by bring down the volume, increasing the distance between the speakers and the microphone (at least 20 cm according to Skype’s website), or simply using a headset.

Background Noise

The cause of background noise if pretty self evident, and so is the first solution: try to find a quiet spot for conducting your call (don’t call from the humdrum of a busy downtown street and then complain about the noise). Next, if you have more than one microphone connected, such as your built-in mic and a dedicated headset mic, make sure Skype is using the best one (the headset mic in this scenario). You can check this by following ToolsOptions Audio settings.


According to Skype, internet connection is the main reason for this class of problems. While there’s little you can do to increase your connection speed or bandwidth (short of taking matter up with your provider and upgrading your plan), you do have control over how your computer manages these resources. Do you have any streaming video/audio or downloads running while you’re making calls? These three are particularly heavy on bandwidth, so you may want to stop such operations before engaging with the other party.

Lastly, moving closer to your wireless router or plugging an Ethernet cable can improve your connection.

Video Quality

Several factors affect your video call quality. Some, like bandwidth, overlap with Voice quality, while others are particular to video.


Not all webcams are created equally. And yet, while Skype recommends using ‘Skype Certified’ and ‘High Quality’ cameras, your setup and environment will have just as much effect on the final outcome, perhaps even greater. A mediocre camera can look good under the right conditions, just as a super-duper camera can perform very poorly under the wrong ones.

Note that you only have control over your own camera. If the person on the other side hasn’t got things figured out you can only instruct them—or better still, point them to this article ;)

Internet Connection

No matter how you slice it, video is a hungry beast and will eat up lots of bandwidth. What we’ve previously mentioned for voice calling applies here just as well—close any data-hungry applications to reduce your computer’s use of bandwidth. If needed, try plugging an Ethernet cable.

Skype recommends the following minimum internet speed for good video quality:

  • Audio calls: 60kb/s

  • Medium quality video calls: 256kb/s

  • Higher quality video calls: 512kb/s

Computer Speed

A slow computer will have a hard time keeping up with video processing. Close any memory-intensive or processor-intensive applications if you’re experiencing problems. Laptops will tone down performance to conserve battery life when on power saving mode. Try switching to AC power or change the settings to maximize performance.

Skype recommends the following minimum system requirements to ensure good quality:

  • Medium quality video calls: 1GHz processor, 512MB RAM, Windows XP or higher

  • High quality video calls: Intel Core duo or faster, plus a Skype Certified High Quality Video webcam.


Video is a visual medium, and there can be no vision without light. Make sure the space is well lit, and mind the direction light is falling from. A small source that’s very close by will throw heavy shadows. On the other hand, a larger source further away will be more diffused by the time it hits your face.

You especially want to avoid backlight, as it results in a silhouetted effect and no one likes talking to a shadow (well, perhaps except for that gal in the film with Alec Baldwin)


Video calling must deal not only with the nature of video, but also with the nature of internet streaming. The key word here is ‘compression’.

Since only so much data can travel down our virtual pipeline at any given time, and since both video and audio pack lots of data (not to mention the two together), data must be compressed. The software must pick and choose selectively what data must be kept to convey a coherent representation of the source, and what data can be discarded without detracting too much.

The way it’s done, in a sentence, is by flagging several frames each second as ‘key frames’ (how many would depend on the level of compression). These frames are kept intact with all their data. The software then analyzes every subsequent frame for changes against the key-frame. Data identified as changed is kept, while data identified as unchanged is discarded.

Fewer changes result in better compression, smaller packets, and ultimately higher video quality. In contrast, more changes are harder to compress and achieve the opposite result.

(For more info, check out this Video Compression Overview)

To put this into context, if you’re sitting at your desk with a stationary bookcase for a backdrop, the bookcase isn’t going anywhere, so the software can render most of the area once and use the same data thereafter. However, if you sat with a TV set behind you… you get the picture.

For best compression:

  • Use stationary background and try to avoid objects moving behind you.

  • Try to avoid intricate patterns (such as checkers, spirals, etc) on clothing or in the background, as these take harder to compression as well.

  • Ensure plenty of light. Overexposure reduces detail in dark areas, making compression easier. Those details would probably be lost either way.


Keeping these things in mind will help you create an optimal environment and reduce interruptions to a minimum, so that you can enjoy the convenience and savings offered by virtual telephony without sacrificing any of your professional service and appeal.

Related Articles:

  1. Use Synclio’s Virtual PBX with a Skype Number

  2. Use Synclio’s Virtual PBX with Google Voice

  3. Why Did Microsoft Buy Skype, and How Might it Affect Current Users?

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posted by Maty Grosman @ 6:55 PM