Tuesday, February 3, 2009

In Game Voice Chat - Revisited

Yesterday, I briefly mentioned that I had used the in game chat feature of Wow this past weekend. And I also got a comment asking why my mic is so quiet (which I can only assume is from one of my friends I was hanging out with). The simple answer to that question is: I don't know. I have my settings turned up to 100% both via the system settings and the Wow settings, so there's really no reason people shouldn't be able to hear me. But I thought I'd go in to more detail as to why the in game system is so poor.

First an analogy. In 1877, when the phonograph was first invented, it was the first time you actually record sound. Sure, it sounded like crap, but it was a technological breakthrough. It was simply amazing! People were astounded that you could hear pre-recorded voices. Shortly thereafter, phonograph cylinders started flooding the market. Recordings could be played about 12 times before the wax would wear out and you could then clean off the worn out recording to record something new. Eventually the wax was hardened so that recordings could be listened to over 100 times. Technology moved forward until the world eventually got the LP record album (oooh..), then the cassette tape (oooh... small size and convenience), and then finally the CD (digital, baby!). For you audiophiles out there, I'm not going to argue the differences (which I'm obviously recognizing) between analog and digital formats. Simply from the technological standpoint, CD's were about a billion times better than the phonographs that Thomas Edison was using. But at each step of the way, people were amazed that this new technology existed and were wow'ed at it's existence, and it was better.

Back to Wow... While the chronological order doesn't exactly fit, I'm going to say that the Wow in-game chat feature is pretty much like records. People were happy when it was finally implemented, but the sound is like that old record player you had as a kid. See all the customization you can do with the 2 buttons? One for speed and one for volume. And I'm sure that one speaker produces some fine quality, grade-F sound. And you can't really record them yourself. Wow chat is basic. It sounds like tin cans. Not much you can do about customizing it. Can't change the codecs for better sound quality. It's pretty much a WYSIWYG solution. There are some things you have to do to set it up, but overall, just a basic solution. It's not for hanging out since only the people in the party/raid can hear everyone. Certainly not for a guild.

Next we have Team Speak. Like cassettes, you've now got some options. You can now copy the tapes pretty easily. You can carry them around pretty easily. You can play them in a car... while it's moving. Sure, fast forward and rewind can take a bit more time, but for that small, protective package that you can record on, it's worth it. Just as there are some downsides with tapes, so is there with Team Speak. You have to set up a server. Whether you set up your own server or buy a service is up to you. All of your users must install a client. But the codecs that are available make it sound like you're actually talking to real people. And, you can tab out to web sites to look things up while you're talking.

And finally, we have Ventrillo. CD's don't lose sound quality. You can play them as many times as you want, and since it's digital, nothing will be lost. With a computer, you can record mixes just like tapes. You can skip to any song you want, like an LP, and you don't even have to turn over sides. And now it's even super easy to rip them on to a computer so you can have a bunch of CD's all queued up and ready to go.

Ventrillo pretty much requires you to purchase a service from one of the many vent server opperators. (You can run your own server for a maximum of like 6 users.) Even better sound quality than TS. Way more options, which also can mean that there's more things you have to set up. It also means that you can configure individual users. Does your tank have their microphone literally in their mouth? Or is your healer's mic on the other side of the room? Make adjustments to their individual volume level. You can also hear your own sound playback to make sure it's not too loud/soft/annoying.

So, yes... Vent costs a bit more, but only to the person/group that's actually paying for it. For everyone else, it's free. You just have to take some time to set it up, and then you get to hear what your guild/raid/party members actually sound like.

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