We just had a nice chat with a couple friends.
One of the friends is in London. The other is in Stafford, about 40 miles north of London. We, of course, are in Hawaii.
We all had live audio and video of each other, courtesy of iChat AV 3, the latest version of Apple's audio and video chat program (which also does AOL-compatible text chat perfectly well, of course), part of the new Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger." And we could have actually had a fourth party in on the chat, too.
Hosting a multi-way video chat like this requires a reasonably good broadband connection (DSL or cable modem), a fast Mac (at least an iMac G5, prices start around $1299 new), and a FireWire video camera like Apple's slick, tiny $150 iSight. But any computer Apple currently sells - even the $500 Mac Mini - is powerful enough to participate in a group video chat, with as little as an ISDN connection. And of course they can all do one-to-one video chats, one-to-one audio chats, and group audio chats with up to 10 participants.
This is one of those "the future has arrived" moments, really. I half expect to go outside tomorrow morning and discover that my Honda is now a flying car. If you've got a proprietary video conferencing system from Polycom or whoever, it just became a dinosaur - and there's an big nasty asteroid heading toward its planet. It can all be replaced by a thin, light iMac or laptop, a tiny camera and a piece of software.