If you use your computer for Voice over IP (VoIP) applications, chances are that at some time you’ve experienced frustration with the cords associated with traditional PC headsets. Imagine being able to roam throughout your home whilst talking to people around the world using a PC headset unencumbered by the constraints of wires. Whether you use a headset for PC to Phone conversations, instant messaging, gaming or video-conferencing, a Bluetooth solution may be just the ticket for your wireless cravings.
For those of you not familiar with the term, Bluetooth refers to a wireless protocol (or set of rules) designed for short range electronic applications (usually less than 30 feet in distance). Although the technology has been around for several years, Bluetooth support for PC users has been limited due to hardware manufacturers focusing on the more traditional 802.11 wireless network protocols (Wi-Fi). In reality, Bluetooth and wi-fi achieve different purposes and each has its pros and cons.
Cellular Telephone Bluetooth Headsets
The cellular telephone community has long embraced Bluetooth technology, developing and refining numerous wireless devices. One of the more popular Bluetooth applications for cellular telephones has been cordless headsets which enable users to leave their telephone in their bag or pocket while still being able to make and receive calls. Bluetooth headsets are generally very lightweight, worn over one ear and achieve talk times from 1-4 hours before needing a recharge.
Bluetooth PC Headset?
So if cellular telephone users have warmly embraced Bluetooth headsets, why not the PC community? At the time of writing, this author knows of no PC hardware manufacturer who has designed a Bluetooth Headset primarily for use with a PC. However, there is nothing to prevent a PC user from using a cellular phone Bluetooth Headset with their PC. Keep in mind though, these headsets were originally envisioned for cellular phone use and may need a bit of ‘tweaking’ before they’ll perform as well as ‘corded’ headsets on your computer.
USB Bluetooth Adapter
Unless you own a relatively expensive notebook PC, odds are that your computer doesn’t natively support the Bluetooth protocol. If this is the case, you’ll need an ‘Adapter’ or ‘Dongle’ in order to make your computer ‘Bluetooth enabled’. Bluetooth adapters are generally very small (a few inches long) and insert into a vacant USB port on your computer. When purchasing an adapter it’s critical that you buy one that supports the ‘headset protocol’. The headset protocol is merely a set of rules which enables your Bluetooth adapter to communicate with and make use of Bluetooth headsets in its vicinity. If your adapter does not support the headset protocol, no amount of ‘tweaking’ will get your headset working with your PC. Adapters generally run between $20 - $80 USD and can be purchased at most PC retailers.
Buying a Bluetooth Headset
Bluetooth headsets for cellular phones are generally very expensive when compared with conventional ‘corded’ PC headsets. Depending on where you buy your headset, you could spend anywhere from $20 to $200+ USD. If you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive headset that’ll simply enable you to make wireless VoIP calls using your PC, I recommend looking on Ebay. Although prices vary considerably on Ebay between merchants for similar products, overall they are considerably less expensive than purchasing the same headset from a telephone store. A word of caution about Ebay though; ensures that you read the fine print associated with shipping costs. Some Ebay merchants advertise Bluetooth Headsets for $5 USD however the real cost quickly rises to $35+ when you account for their often exorbitant shipping charges.
‘Pairing’ the Headset with your PC
Once your computer is ‘Bluetooth enabled’ and you’ve obtained a Bluetooth headset, you’ll need to ‘pair’ the headset with your computer in order to use it for VoIP applications. This is usually just a matter of setting your headset in ‘discovery mode’ and allowing your PC to ‘search’ or ‘discover’ Bluetooth devices. The steps needed to enable discovery mode on your headset and adapter will vary between devices and should be clearly explained in the documentation accompanying your devices.
Adjusting your Audio Settings
Depending on your hardware and operating system, you may need to make adjustments to your audio settings after the headset is ‘paired’ with your PC. In the Windows operating system, this will involve accessing ‘Audio Properties’ through the ‘Control Panel’ and setting the audio and voice devices to your newly paired Bluetooth headset. Again, adjusting these settings should be covered in the documentation accompanying both your headset and Bluetooth adapter.
Once you’re up and running, you’ll wonder why you didn’t adopt this wireless headset solution sooner. The freedom to wander away from your computer whilst maintaining voice over Internet conversations is something you’ll come to appreciate and love.