HD Voice: “Priceless”

VoIP Pioneer Tom Evslin articulates the Skype HD Voice experience.

One of the last sessions I attended at Fall VON was on the topic of HD Voice where several presenters talked about various means to achieve much higher quality voice conversations. Several examples were given about how HD Voice, with its much higher bandwidth, actually provides productivity improvements for call centers and other operations where one can encounter a wide range of accents, personal voice impediments, etc. resulting in lots of “could you repeat that again”, etc. It is the one quality improvement that even conventional PSTN networks could change to differentiate their service as is, according to one speaker, being implemented by Franc. But Skype was a low profile pioneer when it comes to HD Voice.

Fundamentally, the PSTN phone network for years has worked in an audio bandwidth of about 4KHz – sufficient to communicate the basic voice message but still with a squawky tone that we knew was not good enough for any good quality music. HD Voice provides at least double the bandwidth by (i) communicating harmonics in your voice whose absence distorts the conversation and (ii) eliminating those artifacts that can lead to the “could you repeat that again” questions. Nothing artificially done here other than wider bandwidth codecs; it’s a simple case of capturing a much wider range of your own natural voice. At this Fall VON session, a couple of the speakers mentioned how Skype had been a pioneering leader in providing HD Voice.

With some recent testing of High Quality Video I commented on how, when switching between Skype and SightSpeed, not only did we observe a much higher quality video picture via Skype but I could immediately sense a significant difference in voice quality on audio part of the call where the voice on Skype was much crisper, more natural and easier to listen to. The FREETALK Wireless Stereo headset I recently reviewed has a >20 KHz bandwidth on the speakers, making my Skype calls somewhat noticeably richer. I now prefer to use this headset if possible when making Skype-originated calls. When testing the Sony Mylo a year ago, I had a mylo-to-mylo conversation with Andy Abramson where we noticed the much better voice quality. In the mylo case it was the embedded voice engine software from Trinity Convergence that contributed to the quality. Polycom has implemented HD Voice in its Communicator C100S Skype Speakerphone; on the floor user experiences at Fall VON once again demonstrated, through personal experience, the advantages of HD Voice. In fact, in stereo setups, I call it “in your head” because the other party sounds like they are speaking in your head.

Recently Tom Evslin, probably one of the most experienced with not only the use, but also implementation, of VoIP services, put up a post about calling a colleague in Israel, When Vonage could not make the connection he was looking for, he found his party also had a SkypeID. Of the resulting call he says:

Fortunately the person I was calling is an active Skype user and he was on his computer and saw and answered my Skype call. He apparently had a decent quality headset as well. Skype devotes extra bandwidth – you’re paying for it, not them – to making call quality good when the call is between two Skype users. The quality was not only good – it was superb. Usually when I speak to someone for whom English is not his native language, there is a lot of “what” and “please say that again” and “I didn’t quite understand you” in both directions. None of that. We were on Skype an hour and sound quality made the conversation much better than a phone conversation has ever been.

I used to think the reason I have a hard time understanding people on the phone is because I can’t see their lips and their expressions. Now I realize much of the problem is the terrible audio quality – which we’re so accustomed to – of a traditional phone call.

As more and more of our communication goes over abundant Internet bandwidth and bypasses the telephony last mile and as the handset and headset manufacturers have an incentive to spend a little extra on speakers and microphones to support HD voice, we’re going to start insisting on getting what we’ve been missing.

And on (telecomm) innovation, where Tom has more experience than most of us, comments: Is any more example needed of lack of innovation on the traditional phone network?” Definitely worth reading the post in its entirety.

Bu there’s one more service where you can take advantage of HD Voice. Recently HiDef Conferencing launched a new version of their multi-party (up to 500 participants) conferencing service that supports Skype as one means to access their conference calls. As mentioned in my previous post on this launch, all Skype participants on the call will hear each other at the high quality HD Voice bandwidth. And the best part is that Skype participants on the HiDef Conference calls have unlimited usage provided the host has subscribed to the service.

As Tom concludes his post: Skype-to-Skype calls are free anywhere in the world. That’s just money, though; HD voice is priceless.

Tags: Skype, HD Voice, Tom Evslin, Fractals of Change, FREETALK Wireless Stereo Headset

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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