iChat video recording not available on latest MacBook Air

iChat supports the option to record video chats, but on some MacBook Air systems users may find the Record Chat option is not available.

Topher Kessler MacFixIt Editor
Topher, an avid Mac user for the past 15 years, has been a contributing author to MacFixIt since the spring of 2008. One of his passions is troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware at home and in the workplace.
Topher Kessler
3 min read

Recently we were contacted by a MacFixIt reader who has not been able to record video chats in iChat on his new MacBook Air laptop. While video chats work fine, for some reason the "Record Chat" option in the "Video" menu does not work and the program will not allow video chats to be recorded. This is in contrast to both prior MacBook Air models, all other Mac systems that support video chatting.

MacFixIt reader "Joseph" writes:

"I've just discovered that the new MacBook Air, unlike every other current-vintage Apple laptop and desktop, is unable to record a video iChat. My local Apple Store tells me that the problem lies within the hardware itself. Can anyone tell me more specifically what that problem is, and whether there might be any workarounds?"

This problem perplexed us, especially since the newer hardware in the MacBook Air should be faster than previous models and therefore be fully capable of recording video chats. After all, the same system running the prior iteration of OS X was able to record video chats. Therefore, assuming the problem was with some configuration issue, we suggested he first try creating a new user account on the system to test iChat with and see if any user-related settings were contributing to the problem.

iChat Capabilities Window
On systems that support recording, a green check will appear. On the MacBook Air systems experiencing this problem an "Insufficient CPU" error will be shown.

Apparently others besides Joseph have also had this problem, and in a call to AppleCare, Joseph was told it is caused by the latest model of MacBook Air having a hardware incompatibility with iChat that prevents video chats from being recorded. To see this, if you go to the "Video" menu and choose "Connection Doctor," select "Capabilities" from the drop-down menu and the "Record video chat" option will show "Insufficient CPU" instead of a green check.

Some MacBook Air systems that are experiencing this problem have been able to record video when running OS X 10.5 Leopard, indicating this issue may be with the previous 2009 models that shipped with OS X 10.5 in addition to the 2010 models that shipped with OS X 10.6.

The hardware in the latest MacBook Air should be fully capable of recording video chats. Therefore, this is likely a bug in iChat that is preventing this feature from working. It appears Apple uses a specific feature of certain CPUs in iChat's recording feature, and this feature is either not present in the CPUs used in the latest MacBook Air systems, or it has been disabled in firmware or by how the CPU interfaces with the other hardware changes in the latest MacBook Air systems.

If you are experiencing this problem with the latest MacBook Air, be sure to let Apple know by sending the iChat team feedback at the iChat feedback page so hopefully they will address this problem in the next version of iChat.

Meanwhile if you are affected by this issue, there is a workaround that Joseph found, which is to use QuickTime Player's video chatting capabilities. To do this, start up a video chatting session and launch QuickTime Player. Then start a screen recording session, switch to iChat, and set the video to be full screen. This will record the screen and your audio input which you should then be able to import into iMovie or any other editing software.

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