If you’ve seen the 2008 movie WarGames: The Dead Code, you would probably remember how the protagonist of the movie plays multiplayer games with his friend, while simultaneously talking to him online using something that most of us refer to as voice chat. (Note!: I’m not encouraging you to watch that movie! It was a flop. If you really have to check out the story, watch the original WarGames, released in 1983. Classic!)
So, the point is not about gaming here. It’s about the talk. We’re gonna talk about VoIP.
If you’re an average user, who uses the internet everyday you must have heard of, and even used some of the popular VoIP applications in the market such as Skype, Fring on mobile devices and Google Voice. The thing about most of these services is that they are run by third party companies, they limit the number of people that can talk simultaneously aka voice conference and/or they are slow. Apart from these services, however, there are quite a few VoIP applications that are better, let practically any number of people to talk without any additional cost and provide various quality options albeit at a little cost. Cost of running a server.
Gamers who engage in multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft etc, often play in groups, called clans. These clans coordinate their gameplay through such VoIP applications. To put things in perspective, if you need ammo, you just say, Hey Captain, I need ammoand then captain says Already on it’s way soldier!. These clans host or get someone to host servers for these VoIP applications so that they can continue their action in full throttle.
Today, I’m gonna talk about three applications that you can use for this purpose and much more. Their basic idea is that you first install the software on your server, then anyone who needs to join the talk can download the desktop client and connect to the server. On the desktop client, the experience is like IRC, or any other group chat where you can text and speak.
TeamSpeak is one of the oldest contestants in this category. Available at teamspeak.com, Teamspeak is multiplatform for both the server and desktop clients. VoIP applications when compared, are graded on the base of quality of sound, codecs used, inbuilt noise cancellation capabilities and latency (the time taken for voice to travel through the interwebs to the desired listeners lower is better). The latest TeamSpeak, version 3, improves on all of these and more. In case of TeamSpeak, the codec used is Speex A free, patent/free audio codec. Also, on TeamSpeak 3, is the ability to join more than one servers using tabs something like IRC.
However, TeamSpeak itself isn’t open source. It’s proprietary and comes with a license and licensing cost.
If you’re going to use it for a not-for-profit activity, Teamspeak is free and allows 32 people (or slots) on it. If you register the application and apply for a license (which is also free, as long as you’re doing not-for-profit), the server can house 512 people at a time. The other licenses, such as those for Commercial organizations, need to be registered and the license cost can be anywhere from $25 to $500 yearly depending on how many people are going to use it.
So, if you just need it for talking to a group at college or school, you’re gonna get it free. But then you’d have to host it on some server, either yours or some one else’s. If you can’t or don’t want to set up your own server for it, you can buy specific TeamSpeak hosting from various service providers such as InstantTeamSpeak, TeamSpeakHost and GameServers which begin at around $3 monthly.
Ventrilo is another old-school application for gamers, launched about 8 years ago. Commonly referred to as Vent, it is known for its low latency and low cpu usage. Also, Ventrilo uses not one but several codecs such as Speex and GSM and you can customize what quality sound you want in and out, depending on your connection speed.
The server software for Ventrilo is cross platform, however, no Linux client is current available for the desktop.
Like TeamSpeak, Ventrilo is proprietary software. It provides two licenses. Public and Pro. The Public license is free, however, I can’t confirm if there’s a limit to the number of people that can connect to a server when it runs on a public license, but some sources say it’s 8 users.
Also, most people around it’s community say that acquiring a Pro license is very difficult, not because it has requirements such as a minimum 1000 slot count, which should continuously increase, but because Ventrilo is just not giving Pro licenses. So the only option left is setting up our own server with the Public version which is free, or buying hosting with a reseller that already has a license.
Popular resellers include GameServers, NationVoice and InstantVentrilo, the cost for which goes around $3 monthly.
Mumble is the last of this list, and arguably my favorite of all. Point one: It’s open source. Point two: It’s free. Point three: No licensing cost. Point four: No limitation on number of users who can connect. Point five: Very low latency.
Mumble uses the Speex codec and the audio quality sounded heaps better than Skype. Also, there is no echo, and Mumble does noise cancellation on the fly. The latency is so low, it’s almost telephone-like. It’s like you’re talking to someone in the same room as you.
Since there are no licensing cost and the application for both server and desktop is free as is, hosting Mumble on your own server won’t cost you anything in the form of licensing, even if you host for your entire school or college. However, the limitations come down to how powerful your server is. Similarly, if you plan to buy hosting for Mumble from a third-party, the cost of it will be considerably lower than the other two counterparts mentioned above, but you’ll be limited by the number of slots or connections. You can choose your hosting plan accordingly.
Another plus point for Mumble is that it can be used for podcasting and general interviews. The upcoming (currently in beta) version of Mumble’s server side app (it’s actually called Murmur the server app, but I prefer to keep it simple) will support recording. Although recording has nothing to do with the server, it’s the desktop client’s capability, but the developers of Mumble are designing the record feature in such a way that whenever someone starts to record, all the participants of the talk are alerted. This needs the server’s connection. So podcasters, wait a few weeks until Mumble desktop/client 1.2.3 is released, and then you’d have the option of selecting a competent alternative to Skype that gives better quality recordings!
Hosting your own Mumble presents no limits, however, third-party hosts such as MumbleSlots, VoipServers, GameServers and Sabrienix will limit your usage by slots, that is, they will limit how many people can talk at a time. For example, I got a 10 slot package from Mumbleslots. It usually costs $15 yearly. But they had this offer going on which gave me a flat 50% discount (the offer is still on). So in short, I got an account where 10 people can simultaneously voice chat, for $7 a year and the quality is badass! Literally. Nevertheless, I got it because I wanted the record feature. Native record feature for Interviews for the win!
If you’re interested in trying Mumble out, you can connect to my server and chat up with whoever is there (I may not be present at all times). Just install Mumble and then click this link: Connect to Keshav’s Mumble server Login using a username of your choice.
All these applications were inherently developed for gamers, however, these are just software and technology that you can use with anything you find it suitable for. For example, organizations can host these on their intranet and then everybody in the office building can talk in different channels or rooms for different departments. And yes, these applications support password protected channels, so nobody will be able to peek into the conversations of the HR department!
Image Credit: jayraz