Over the last few years, businesses have come to appreciate that video conferencing (VC) systems have many other uses besides catering to senior executive use. Improving bandwidths globally have given rise to video conferencing applications in the most inhospitable field locations. Engineers servicing complex machinery in the desert or in the arctic can send back high quality video of failed parts and get the exact replacements they need, and doctors can now examine patients in remote locations.
An ever increasing number of web applications now include video conferencing with support personnel. The list of possible uses is endless and costs are dropping all the while. As a consequence, there is growing interest in setting up video conferencing systems. Read more.
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Video Conferencing Buyer’s Guide
Before any action is taken to select equipment, there are certain preliminary studies that need to be undertaken. The essential considerations that need to be addressed are:
- The number of sites to be connected
- The number of simultaneous users of the system
- Whether there is a requirement to be able to conference with clients and suppliers
- The anticipated use of the system
- The availability of bandwidth both at headquarter locations and at outlying stations, including for mobile users
- File sharing and other data sharing requirements during video conferences
- The capabilities of the existing data network
- The types of conferences that will be held (Engineering, Sales, Executive etc.)
- The budget
There is huge variety in the types of VC equipment and their capabilities and costs. More often than not, it is the available budget that plays a deciding role in the quality and quantity of equipment that will be procured and the features that will be supported.
Major Types of Video Conferencing Solutions
There are five major typres of VC solutions. They are as follows:
- Telepresence systems: these are fixed location systems using the very best equipment that create the impression of all participants being in the same room. Furniture, room décor and all other aspects are coordinated across telepresence rooms to give participants a feeling of being in the same room. The costs of telepresence systems are naturally very high.
- Integrated Systems: these are systems built for conference rooms or other fixed locations. There is no attempt to create a telepresence ambience, and the primary goal is to provide high quality video between several locations.
- Set-top Systems: these are systems where the entire VC apparatus is kept together, often on a trolley that can be wheeled into any room. It will simply be plugged into a LAN switch in the room where it is to be used.
- Desk-top Systems: here a simple web cam and microphone is plugged into individual PCs to provide a large number of employees with desktop VC capabilities.
- Mobile systems: Apps for Android and iOS devices are available for installation onto smartphones or tablets. These can work over the cellular network or connect wirelessly to set-top or integrated systems.
HD or Standard?
Readers are no doubt aware of the difference between standard quality and high definition (HD) video. While some may consider this to be merely an issue of video quality, there are many applications where HD video can make an enormous difference. Tele-medicine is one such application that becomes practical and possible with HD video. Many engineering applications are only possible once HD video is available.
There is a major difference in costs between standard and HD equipment. Besides this, HD will also require greater bandwidth. However, it should be noted that the costs of bandwidth and equipment are dropping and HD systems are becoming more affordable with time.
Selecting a Conferencing Solution
Once these preliminary questions are addressed and the basic type of system and functionality has been decided, businesses can create a short listing of solutions and get on with evaluations and trials. While appraising a prospective solution, some key points to consider are:
- Simplicity of Use: look for a simple, uncluttered interface that does not require any advanced IT skills to operate. The process of initiating a meeting must be simple, and file and desktop sharing must be intuitive.
- Ensure Security: while it should be easy to use different kinds of access devices to conduct a conference (desktop, mobiles, conference rooms, etc.), security must not be an afterthought. The system must be able to demonstrate security, and be able to easily establish connectivity with persons who may be behind different firewalls.
- Collaboration Tools: merely being able to see the other person is not enough to get the most out of a VC solution. Participants must be able to share documents in their native formats while speaking with each other, and they should be able to share desktops and make annotations over running applications. It is important to ensure that collaboration is easy and that no specialist IT staff is required to assist users. Co-Browsing is another attractive collaboration tool where all participants to a call can browse the web together. If the session leader clicks a link, everyone’s browser will go to the relevant website. If the leader clicks a media file, all browsers will begin to play it simultaneously.
- Adaptive Systems: many VC systems have an adaptive approach to bandwidth management. These systems can adjust to network congestion in real time and continue to deliver the best possible video experience even over congested networks.
Cloud-Based Conferencing Systems
Cloud-based VC systems offer a great alternative to the equipment intensive systems that were the norm just a few years ago. A cloud-based VC system is far simpler to deploy, requires the customer to procure a minimal amount of equipment and can be set up rapidly. HD video is fast becoming the norm, and the system can connect to subscribers globally as long as they use any standards based VC system.
Buying a Video Conferencing solution has become less complex over the past decade. Modern systems are far simpler to deploy compared to earlier ones. Cloud-based solutions can be even simpler to use, and they give users capabilities that were previously not even part of standard feature lists. As the cost of equipment and bandwidth have reduced, the risks involved in setting up a VC system have been reduced considerably and now even smaller businesses have begun to incorporate VC into their work flows.