iChat Video Problems + Solutions, or Don’t Return Your New Mac Yet

iChat Video Problems + Solutions, or Don’t Return Your New Mac Yet 1

I love Apple’s iChat. Currently in version 4.0.2, and once known as iChat AV, this single, simple-looking program enables even novice users to quickly establish video, audio, or text chats, and is one of several key reasons that I repeatedly hear that people are switching to the Mac. But iChat has a serious problem: more than any other program most people use on the Mac, it depends on a properly set up network to work, and if your network’s not set up properly, it doesn’t provide detailed error messages or a troubleshooting wizard to help you trace what’s wrong. So when I heard that a family member just bought and almost returned a Mac because he couldn’t get video iChat to work properly, even after searching for help in Apple’s Discussions boards, Help menus, and Google, I realized that I might be able to share a few solutions that could help other people get iChat video chats to work as expected.


The problem: everything else on the Mac worked, but iChat would not connect for video chats. You’ve probably seen the generic error messages before: “There was a communication error during your chat.” “No data has been received for 10 seconds” timeouts. “User cancelled the connection.” “Did not receive a response from user.” And so on. My family member spent five or so hours with the MacBook’s integrated help system and people on the telephone trying to figure out what the issue was. Was it port forwarding? No. A lack of general Internet connectivity? No. User error? No. Nothing seemed to help, and the computer was literally moments away from being boxed and sent back to Apple.

What ultimately worked in this case was a solution that, in my view, should be your starting point: the wireless router was removed, and the Mac was connected directly via a wire to the cable modem via its Ethernet port. Suddenly iChat began to work perfectly—no mysterious errors. This single step demonstrated that the Mac was capable of working, and that the cable modem was doing everything it should be doing, too. There was something wrong with the wireless router. Maybe.

At this point, I will tell you a little something about wireless routers. People have really bad experiences with them, and the companies that sell them. Unfortunately, these problems actually come from numerous sources: existing wireless home phones, microwave ovens, other wireless devices, poorly made routers, poorly written wireless software and firmware for both the routers and wireless computers—the list goes on and on. Because there are so many ways that wireless networks can hiccup or fail, router makers often throw up their hands and leave customers to troubleshoot their own problems. They point to Apple and other computer makers. They point to the cable modems, DSL systems, and their providers. And then, when you call your computer or cable modem company, these companies point somewhere else. It’s nobody’s fault.


I can’t tell you for certain that the iChat problem you’re having is going to be the exact same one as discussed here, but I can tell you this: eliminating the wireless router as a cause is a critical first step. Once your computer is connected directly to your broadband modem, and you confirm that your web browser can connect with a web site, you can then test your connection with one of three little-known Apple iChat test buddies. These are added using the + icon on iChat’s buddy list, keeping the Account type as AIM, and creating 3 separate buddies by entering one name at a time into the Account name: field, hitting the Add button, and repeating that process until all 3 are added.



The next step is to click on the bright green camera icon next to one of these names, the first two of which run Apple commercials on non-stop loops (below), the third of which is supposed to mirror back your video to you. If one of the three names is grayed out, someone else is testing with it now, but if it’s bright green, you can connect and do a test right away. If it works and runs stable, your machine’s just fine and your connection is just fine. If it connects but runs sluggish, your Internet connection is probably to blame if you’re not running any other programs and using a recent (G5 or Intel) Mac.


If it doesn’t connect, run your Mac’s Internet diagnostics, found under System Preferences > Network, with the “Assist me…” button at the bottom of the screen. This process should sort out whether the problem’s in your Mac, your broadband connection, or the wireless router, and it’s probably going to be the router. If everything works, you can try to reconnect the router again and work through the problems.


When my family member reconnected the router, it was obvious that the issue was tricky to diagnose. The correct next step, and one that worked immediately to solve his problem, was to temporarily turn off wireless security altogether: once WPA was turned off, iChat worked perfectly. But what about the need for wireless security? Ultimately, experimenting with this feature—trying WPA2 security, for instance, making sure that both the router and the computer were set up to use the newer, apparently more reliable WPA2 standard—was something that solved an iChat problem I had long ago.


The ability to talk over video or voice chat with family members, friends, and/or business associates is a killer feature of the Mac platform, but it’s obvious that people who have iChat problems can find their new Mac enthusiasm killed instead. Until a troubleshooting wizard for iChat or better diagnostic error messages appear, the steps above should help you figure out what’s really wrong with the most serious iChat failures. I hope they’re as useful for your family as they were for mine.

  1. The internet sharing did the trick for me. Only problem was I need to have the sharing turned on. One I had a test connection established I tried turn the sharing back on and iChat video still worked, mostly. When trying to connect from wireless Macbook Pro to the wired iMac the chat gets declined immediately. However, when I initiate the video chat from the iMac it goes through. For me half a solution is almost as good as a complete one. Now I can communicate with the family when I’m on the road and see what they are doing on the computer.

  2. i did what the first comment said and what the article said and my ichat video wont work….

    any suggestions would help a lot


  3. I’m not sure if this has been said already….but I had problems getting my video to work on my iChat and it would give me this message that said “This computer does not support video chatting.” Frustrated, I googled like crazy on how I could fix the problem, since the camera worked with every other application. I came across this page and noticed a comment said to turn internet sharing off. I went into my settings and noticed that it was already off.

    So I turned it on.
    And now it works.

    Sooooo…I guess it goes both ways?

  4. I went through the entire thread thinking and trying nearly each of the suggestions….until the ones right at the end… turn internet sharing on!!! That worked for me.. I guess it does work both ways…. (And here i was gloating about the macbook pro.. Shall shut up and sit tight in my corner, done bragging about this.)

  5. Dear frustrated users,

    You have my fullest sympathy. I have been through all of this iChat A/V hell as well. Please be assured there is no simple cure. The problem is twofold:

    (1) IPv4 addressing makes NAT necessary. Since there are not enough IPV4 addresses for all of us, your broadband router does network address translation (NAT). This effectively hides all your connected devices from the outside world. From your IPS’s and everybody else’s point of view, all your computers seem to be one. This means that your router has to translate between the inside and outside worlds. It has to forward an incoming packet to the right machine in your home. If you have two routers (e.g. broadband and wireless), make sure NAT is ever enable on only one of them. It should be the “outermost” one. If both run NAT, they will pull the wool over each other’s eyes and most things won’t work. IPv6 hasn’t been put in wide operation just yet. IPv6 would have enough addresses for all of us, and silly kludges like NAT would be obsolete. But exposing all your devices to the whole world requires some security and privacy architecture; which we don’t have in place just yet.

    (2) You will want security and privacy. To protect your home net, your router will block most ports. That’s why in many router setting you find magic buttons for enabling certain games etc. The most sensible thing is to activate UPnP on your router. Don’t worry about your Mac, it’s on by default. UPnP allows your Mac to tell your router “listen up buddy, I’m gonna start this session and I will need these ports open: …”. This enables your router to keep most ports closed but still enable your apps to work. Since your Mac (or any computer on your home net for that matter) can now silently open ports in your router’s firewall, you should be running good anti-virus and anti-spyware protection on all of your systems.

    So it’s a matter of striking the balance between security & privacy, and being lenient enough to enable A/V chat to work. IF there were a “Secure UPnP” where individual apps on your system would be paired with your router, then router manufacturers could deliver their devices with UPnP on by default. But UPnP being the flat system it is, manufacturers can’t do that. It needs to be a deliberate decision by the user whether to enable UPnP, or not. Do I have enough anti-virus and anti-spyware protection? If yes, turn it on. If not, leave it off.

  6. we are using imichat. The problem was, how can we see each other? Me and my wife both using mobile. Each time we try to make conversati0n we cant even chat with each other privately, while in the chatroom we can. All we want is too see each other thats all. Thanks if someone could help.

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