A Comparison of Current VOIP Solutions for Gamers

Computer games have been an important part of my life since as long as I can remember. I’m still young, but I caught the tail end of Kali and saw Mplayer rise and fall, and Gamespy never quite thrilled me like All Seeing Eye. Things have changed a lot over the last decade, but one important tool has remained the same. I discovered this tool during the beginning of my birth into the FPS clan community. The reason people were so darn good was because of they had the one advantage the noobs didn’t — communication. I honestly can’t think of anything more important in online gaming than your access to voice communication. Not only does it make the experience more enjoyable, but also helps to create friendship on a whole new level.

The difference between now and ten years ago is that we’ve finally brought in choice. Out goes relics like Roger Wilco and in comes some real competitors. As we all know, competition fuels advancement. Many gamers these days are constantly bickering over which tool is better – Ventrilo or Teamspeak. Others who like to keep their VOIP sessions a bit smaller and more personal tend to utilize Skype. However, a few are catching on to this new kid on the block known as Mumble. As primarily a Teamspeak user, I have been itching to test and see what solution is truly the most superior. When it comes to FPS games you need every tweak possible to keep up with the rest and VOIP is definitely on that list. I had some free time and access to all the required software, so testing is what I did.

Before I begin I’d like to quickly touch on the advent of in-game VOIP technologies. I think it’s wonderful and a great asset to multiplayer online games. It sure makes things enjoyable when you have a good team of random people communicating and working together online. I like that the volume can automatically lower for the VOIP transmission which is a feature unique to this integration. However, there is a drawback to this — you can’t easily contact other people you know who are playing other games. It’s just not a solution a clan or squad who play multiple games regularly can rely on. Furthermore, you have to remember that the server is doing this work and heavy VOIP can cause a game server to lag as it takes up quite a bit of bandwidth and some CPU time. Consequently the audio quality can be poor as I have seen in a few games. When it comes down to it, this is not something I’d rely on in the competitive gaming community.

I’d also like to give you some background on the setup so we don’t get a thrall of flames and accusations. I’m a Unix/Linux sysadmin with a networking degree. I do have half a clue regarding networking, but if you see a blatant mistake please, beat me senseless. I only have control over my network during the tests, so I can’t vouch for others, but there is no interference on my end. I tested with no traffic (web, torrent, etc), and if you’re wondering I have QoS setup for all these applications at the same (highest) priority. A friend of mine runs my clan’s Teamspeak server on FreeBSD 6.2. He also put Murmur on that same server. Ventrilo is on a separate server, and Skype is . . . well, Skype is Skype. I’m watching the Stanley Cup Finals as I write this and making this a bracket competition kind of makes more sense because of the visual representation and it fits my testing process. Behold, the competitors.

Skype – – – – – – – – – –                                    – – – – – – – – – – Teamspeak

___________________| _______ vs _______ |

Mumble – – – – – – – – –                                     – – – – – – – – – – Ventrilo

The first on my list was Skype (3.8 win32) vs Mumble (1.1.4 win32). While speaking to the Timedoctor himself I compared Skype and Mumble’s performance by speaking and listening over both connections at the same time. On my end the Mumble server was reporting 45-60ms. I found the voice quality to be pretty close. Mumble uses Speex for voice activation detection, background noise filtering, and compression. Skype utilizes a proprietary protocol of which the details are scarce. I have always enjoyed the voice quality of Skype, and Mumble has that and more. My experience showed that the background noise filtering was superb and pushed Mumble to the top in this category. Skype also happens to use a more P2P type of communication instead of client/server, but don’t let that scare you. I’m not going to discuss bandwidth or resource usage because that’s not the point of this article — we want the best tool for you no matter the cost. However, latency is certainly important. It was quite close actually, but Mumble was slightly faster than Skype. Skype was the echo in this test, and I’d have to say it was something on the order of 250ms — definitely noticable. Mumble wins this one.

Skype – – – – – – – – – –                                    – – – – – – – – – – Teamspeak

___________________| Mumble vs _______ |

Mumble – – – – – – – – –                                     – – – – – – – – – – Ventrilo

Teamspeak (2.0.32.60 win32) and Ventrilo (3.01 win32) were the next up to the chopping block.. Teamspeak has Speex for its high end audio codec as does Ventrilo. Teamspeak’s audio is not exactly something to write home about. It has a bit more liberal licesing and that’s probably why it has a pretty good foothold in the hosting market. Ventrilo, however, makes you sound human wheras Teamspeak’s audio quality can’t really be explained adequately. Even at the highest settings Teamspeak seems to make you sound like you’re in a wind tunnel or a tin can without a very high end mic. Don’t critique me on this, I’ve had dozens of mics and they all end up with the same results. Latency was extremely noticable. The Vent server was measuring 22ms and the Teamspeak was measuring 45-60ms. No wonder you Vent fans fap furiously to the egotistic Vent developer (singular). We’re looking at nearly a 1.25 second difference here in audio! This was just mind blowing. In an FPS game this can be the difference between (virtual) life and (virtual) death! On a side note, Teamspeak has one feature I want to see more often though: you can amplify the audio to make it louder than other applications. It’s nice to make the VOIP louder than the rest of the system so you don’t have to lower your game’s volume. This is probably less of an issue than I’m making it out to be, but I really do enjoy this feature and can’t quite locate this in Ventrilo. If it’s there, sue me. Either way, this Bud’s for you Vent, you earned it.

Skype – – – – – – – – – –                                  – – – – – – – – – – Teamspeak

___________________| Mumble vs Ventrilo |

Mumble – – – – – – – – –                                  – – – – – – – – – – Ventrilo

Okay, we’ve weeded out Skype and Teamspeak. The final showdown needs a bit of an introduction. From my machine I have the following measurements: Mumble showing 45-60ms as stated earlier, and Vent claiming 22ms. Let’s get straight to the point. Latency for Ventrilo was comparable with Skype. Mumble has the advantage here. It’s slight, but every bit is critical. In the audio quality realm it’s very close, too, but Mumble has actively working background noise filtration that can be the difference between hearing your teammate the first time and losing critical time asking “WTF?”.

The conclusion is pretty simple. If you want the best you can get right now for VOIP you better look at Mumble. Not many hosting companies offer it yet, but if you can get a VPS or a dedicated server go out and install it immediately! There’s not much more to ask for — you get great audio quality and latency, in game overlay is a part of Mumble, directional audio can hook into games, nested channels, awesome multiplatform support, and probably others I can’t think to mention. The only negative is that although user and group control is great once you get the users created . . . creating them is not exactly straightforward. There is a perl cgi web interface for it, but it’s really basic. I expect this to be taken care of soon, but it is something you should know about. Get past this hurdle and you won’t look back. Either way, do these Mumble devs a favor and get them laid as a THANK YOU for such an amazingly well performing app. Just don’t get them into a relationship or we might not see version 2.0. P.S. Teamspeak 3 is vaporware. Don’t get your hopes up.

TimeDoctor Approved Podcasts of the Week 05/23/08

This week has another American favorite, greedy bastards presented in the most presentable way possible, screaming for money.

One of my favorite podcasts, Radiolabcovered the trading floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange. It is only ten minutes long and is quite fun. If you enjoy that one and are looking for more, check out their War of the Worlds episode next.

Also this week, the Cheap Ass Gamer podcast was as consistently good as it always is. I have to give them credit for recommending Pain on the Playstation 3 PSN store. Tried that out after their last episode where they suggested it and I really enjoyed it. It is surprisingly fun for five minutes of playing, though the fact that you have to complete a tutorial before playing the actual game is terrible.

Needed: (hairy) game developers for exciting new project(s)

The 23rd scroll, 9th verse, of the ancient texts says:

Beware the beast man, for he is the devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him. Drive him back into his jungle lair: For he is the harbinger of death.

 

In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey, a monkey with an idea for a new game franchise. So, tonight as I watched my second favorite (see below post) film, I realized that an opportunity for game development was staring me right in the face.

The film, if you have not guessed it, is the legendary Planet of the Apes and the idea is two-fold.

Firstly, I think that a Planet of the Apes Massive Multiplayer Game is just what the internet needs. This game will be the prime place for geeks, the obese, shut-ins, the handicapped, dystopians, and the general Comic Book Store Guys of the world to flex their ape-might against that irritating group known as humanity. The same folks who belittled us er people in High School and picked up all of the mute women (hereafter Nova’s) that were meant for us.

When you sign up, for a mere $40 a month, you too will have your choice of player classes including:

  • Chimpanzee: these are the intelligentsia, by varying degrees, all mimicking the five films, from physician to scientist, theologian, and young activist.
  • Gorilla: grunt, military, street cleaner, and orange-jumpsuit clad revolutionary.
  • The Scum Of Future Earth (sssh, don’t blow the ending) human (mute slave, talking slave, oppressor, and turtleneck-sporting liberal). Word of warning for human chars; watch out for the dreaded lobotomist!

Imagine varying game environments from muddy beaches, to straw huts, and the desolate concrete jungles of future-Los Angeles. Depending on which server you log onto, you will face new challenges based on one of the film environments.

You will encounter familiar faces from the movie as you play the game. Everyone from Cornelius to Dr. Zaius, Taylor, and the greatest of them all, General Urko will either aid-in, or stymie, your quest to be top dog (or ape).

Secondly, that been said, perhaps the M.M.O. arena is a bit too overdone. How about we go the Lego Planet of the Apes route? All of the classic film series are doing it (Star Wars, Batman, Indiana Jones), why not the second greatest (see below post) of them all?!? I love you Dr. Zaius!

Small, Pretty, Hybrid, Cars

Hybridcars has a post up detailing more information on some cars we’ll be seeing from Honda in next two years:

The first new dedicated hybrid vehicle, due in 2009, will be offered as a 5-door hatchback with seating for five passengers and will employ an exterior design concept that evokes the FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle. With the new hybrid, Honda is aiming to produce the most affordable hybrid on the market. Fuel economy for the new car is expected to exceed 40 miles per gallon.

TimeDoctor Approved Podcasts of the Week 05/16/08

This week we’re listening and watching the best America has on offer. Even though Zero Punctuation (after the break) is really made in from another nation, it is about grand theft auto which is currently set in New York/Liberty, City. Oh, and your mortagage costs a lot: 

This American Life #355:

The Giant Pool of Money: A special program about the housing crisis. We explain it all to you. What does the housing crisis have to do with the collapse of the investment bank Bear Stearns? Why did banks make half-million dollar loans to people without jobs or income? And why is everyone talking so much about the 1930s? It all comes back to the Giant Pool of Money.

 

Continue reading “TimeDoctor Approved Podcasts of the Week 05/16/08”

MGS4 Notes

  • MGS4 “Steel” Bundle 40GB PS3 exclusive from Konami… $600!?!? WTF This thing probably doesn’t even have backwards compatibility with the PS2!
  • MGS4 Goes Gold, Includes iPod and Playboy Brands: Great, it’s gold. I just hope that playboy stuff is merely swimsuit style so they don’t get in trouble.
  • 5 New Screenshots: Yawn.
  • Metal Gear Online Beta: I played it, it’s fun. Yes it isn’t perfect. Yes it requires multiple logins to be created. Yes the controls still aren’t great. Yes snapping necks as Solid Snake when everyone else is generic militiaman or genome soldiers is the best multiplayer experience I’ve had recently.