Washington Apple Pi

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iChat Extreme

By Travis Good

Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint information

My last article on iChat dealt with the fundamentals of getting started with Instant Messaging. In this article we’ll go to the opposite extreme. Here we will learn about the impressive new iChat features added in Leopard, from its new video features to its new amazing ways to share. iChat is much more than sending text messages back and forth!

Leopard Enhancements

As you may know, iChat comes with Mac OS X just as Mail and Safari do. When Apple releases an upgrade of Mac OS X, we usually see upgrades in its bundled programs as well. Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5) is no exception. A few of the more outstanding additions include:

Tabbed iChat

Tabbed Chat.This window shows three chat boxes gathered in a single window.

There are a myriad of other small changes which all contribute to a more refined Instant Messaging environment. However, it’s the following big changes that motivated me to write this article.

Video Effects

Video effects 1

Video effects image 1.

It was a minor miracle when Apple added easy-to-use video to iChat. Not only did iChat set a new standard for quality, but it also allowed for chats among up to four people. Having previously made video conferencing accessible to the masses, in this upgrade Apple set about making it more fun with a variety of video effects. Borrowing heavily from the feature set of Photo Booth, you can now add special effects, add background images, or even add background videos.

Video effects 2

Video effects image 2.

The 16 special effects vary widely but include Sepia, Comic Book, Pop Art and a series of distortion lenses such as Dent, Stretch, Fish Eye, and Mirror. If you have Photo Booth then you can see them all if you click on the “Effects” button. They’re all enjoyable to play with and that’s the point. These effects are fun.

Video Effects 3

Video effects image 3.

For its next trick Apple borrowed some technical wizardry from the movie industry. When you first launch a Background Effect from within iChat it asks you to step out of the frame so it can memorize the background. By doing so iChat is able to distinguish you from the background when you step back in to the frame. This ability allows iChat to dynamically repaint the background.

Video Effects 4

Video effects image 4.

What results from iChat’s ability to do this? Fun! You can now place yourself within a comic book world or be standing in front of a famous landmark. You can be calmly talking as a volcano erupts or be interviewed in the context of a sunny beach. Using images and movies provided by Apple or using your own, you can have a great time creating new realities as you video chat.

Video Effects 5

Video effects image 5.

Video Effects 6

Video effects image 6.

iChat Theater

A new technology that comes with Leopard is Quick Look. It allows you to quickly preview the contents of files without launching an application and it supports a wide variety of document, image, audio and video file formats. You can now very quickly view the contents of Word documents, PDF files, Keynote pitches, and many other files.

iChat uses Quick Look in a feature called iChat Theater. In the context of a video chat, the basic idea of iChat Theater is to share the contents of files on your computer. As mentioned above, this could be anything from sharing a PowerPoint presentation to sharing pictures from a recent vacation. You can share any content that Quick Look supports.

For instance, I was just now chatting with a friend in Argentina and wanted to show him some pictures I took in Halifax. To do so I went to the File menu and selected “Share iPhoto with iChat Theater,” then selected an iPhoto album to share and initiated a video chat. Within seconds he was seeing the sights of Nova Scotia’s biggest city .

iChat Theater

Here is a photo of St. Paul’s Church in Halifax, that I shared with an iChat friend using iChat theatre. I inset an image of the friend that I shared the photo with.

Screen Sharing

While I find all the above features impressive and I enjoy using them, it’s this last feature that truly amazes me. From within the new iChat it is now possible to share your screen with someone else. After an invitation to share a screen has been accepted, both people can control the cursor and keyboard of the shared computer. This facilitates an unprecedented ease in collaborating. Now directly helping someone learn a new program or solve a technical problem on their Mac is an easy iChat click away, provided you both have Leopard of course.


As I said in my last article, whether you use iChat a little or a lot, it should still be a part of your communications arsenal along with email and the phone. Enough people rely on Instant Messaging that it’s worth learning to use it and having it around. With the added features of Leopard, iChat can be both fun and a very powerful way to communicate.