At its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Apple introduced video-conferencing to its iChat instant-messaging software, the iSight digital video camera (pictured). Together they enable high-quality video conferences between two Mac users over any broadband connection.

iChat AV also features audio conferences over dial-up connections to the Internet. According to Apple, iChat AV requires no setup or configuration beyond installing the software and plugging in any FireWire video camera and microphone. Buddies with audio or video conferencing capability automatically show up in your buddy list, and initiating a video or audio conference is "as simple as pushing one button". iChat AV is a key feature of the upcoming release of Mac OS X version 10.3 "Panther", and is available as a public beta today for Mac OS X version 10.2 "Jaguar".

While iChat AV works with any FireWire video camera, Apple's iSight digital video camera was designed for video conferencing, delivering what Apple claims are "sharp images and clear sound" through its built-in, dual-element noise-suppressing microphone. "Smaller and lighter" than most mobile phones, iSight – built in aluminum alloy – has a centre-mount design that allows video conversations to be "far more engaging and natural". iSight is available today for £119 (including VAT).

"iChat AV is a major breakthrough in communications - users can now video conference with their business associates, colleagues in education, friends and family with just the push of a button, said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "iChat AV and iSight truly offer video conferencing for the rest of us, and since they were designed with Apple's legendary ease-of-use, anyone can set them up in under five minutes."

iSight features a custom designed lens with auto-focus and a high-end CCD sensor to provide high-resolution images and full-motion video at up to 30 frames per second. It includes an integrated microphone that suppresses ambient noise for crystal-clear digital audio. With its on-board processor, iSight automatically adjusts colour, white balance, sharpness and contrast to provide high-quality images with accurate colour reproduction in "any lighting conditions".

Video conferencing requires a PowerPC 600MHz G3 or greater Mac. The final version of iChat AV will be included as a key feature of the upcoming release of Mac OS X version 10.3, known as Panther.