Gather Around the Piano This Holiday with Virtual Christmas Caroling by Video Conference

virtual christmas caroling

Go on, admit it. You have a favorite Christmas carol.

I don’t mean that in a cynical, “they’re all terrible, but this one is tolerable” kind of way. I mean everyone has a carol they actually enjoy.

It’s just part of the nostalgia and excitement of the season.

It’s something you carry with you from those first Christmas mornings, and it never truly disappears no matter where life leads you.

And if life has led you far from home and family, you can still indulge those feelings through song by getting everyone together via a video conference. But there’s a bit of a hitch when it comes to getting everyone caroling over video chat–here’s the deal.

Music Isn’t Quite NSYNC Over Video Conference

The technology of video calling has advanced enough to make face-to-face conversation across continents a perfectly feasible operation, even on basic connections and free VC platforms.

When it comes to music, however, the slight delays and hitches in signal that go unnoticed in conversation become glaring in harmony.

Pure audio, such as a radio stream, is much lighter than video data and therefore travels a lot faster over the internet. The difference is huge. A podcast playback over the web, for instance, requires only a tiny 320 Kbps link, while a video call at standard definition transmits at 3-4 Mbps, or about 10 times faster.

That need for speed increases if you move to HD quality, and it also increases with every guest you add to your video chat, even though modern codecs do a tremendous job of reducing streaming audio and visual files down to transmittable pieces. For instance, an HD video call that would need over 600 Mbps of broadband power can be reduced to around 4 Mbps.

But that’s still not enough to convey every musical phrase from every remote singer in unison. Help for the remote caroler is, however, on the way.

Getting Faster Video Calls

America’s major music conservatories have largely solved the sonic latency problem by turning to the outlandish speeds of the mysterious-sounding Internet 2.

An exclusive network of more than 200 universities and private innovators, Internet 2 generates speeds thousands of times faster than your average domestic link up largely because its dedicated connections are free of traffic.

It allows professional grade musicians to play together across remote destinations with a delay of less than half a second.

That kind of wide open digital highway isn’t currently available to the average household, but increases in satellite services and improved fiber networks from newcomers like Google Fiber will get us all moving a lot faster in the near future–in fact, some parts of the U.S. already enjoy speeds of 50 Mbps, 2.5 times faster than the national average, and Google is already bragging about producing speeds of 1,000 Mbps.

While we wait on that promise to be fulfilled, researchers at MIT are working to commercialize a system of multiple Wi-Fi antennas that can pool their carrying capacity and increase internet speeds ten-fold. The service is currently designed around large gatherings, such as sporting events, but it’s not hard to imagine a domestic setup that offers multiple points of receiving and transmitting data.

Once high-speed booster services like these arrive, we’ll be caroling with each other across the nation in perfect harmony.

Video Calling for Christmas

For now, though, one initiative you can take to bring your remote voices closer into harmony is scale up your VC platform.

Google’s latest offering, Duo, has already won praise for its speed and low latency, but there are plenty of other services, such as Vidyo and BlueJeans, that have built a business around efficiently sending big files over small bandwidths. Rather than stick with Skype this Christmas, take a look at what else is out there, and find something that works across devices, can accommodate group chat (bye bye Duo), and maybe offers a few little extras, like live recording.

Now all you have to do is find a common time across whatever distances your family is spread, and set your smartphone or tablet down beside the piano. With a group chat in motion you can easily have a dozen or so singers join the festive singalong across several destinations. Sure, it’ll be a smoother sound in the future when we’re transmitting at faster speeds, but it’s still the best way to put a face to a voice.

And make sure they all sing your favorite carol.

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