What can I show on a videoconference?

You can show anything on a video conference as long as your video conferencing system, (CODEC), can accept the input. It could be your computer, document camera, a second video camera, an electronic white board and even a standard flip chart. You should be able to show anything you would normally show participants who are actually in your conference room. The most common input is a computer. It’s a good idea to plan ahead if you are collaborating from your computer. Open the files you intend to show ahead of time.

For example if you are showing PowerPoint have the file open and in presentation mode. When you click input or presentation on the CODEC remote, your presentation comes up instantly. We suggest your PowerPoint settings be in “Browsed by an individual” mode. You can change this setting by First clicking on “Slide Show,” Second click on “Set Up Slide Show” and Third click on “Browsed by an individual.” Your presentation will come up without any tool bar clutter at the other end. Keep in mind that when your computer is connected anything displayed on your computer will be seen in real time at the other end. Video clips from your computer can also be shown. If sound is important with the video you need to make sure the audio connection from your computer is connected to the video conferencing CODEC.

As mentioned document cameras, second cameras and electronic white boards can also be connected. If you intend to use all these extra inputs you should consider hiring an A/V integrator to program all this through a central control system. This will eliminate the four or five remotes on your conference table that nobody knows how to use. A central control system simplifies everything – in fact some operate through the iPad and with one touch you can intuitively bounce from one input to another. You can even program the drapes to close and the lights to go on and off.

One other feature included in most new video conferencing systems, (CODECS), is Duo-Video or the H.239 standard. This is a relatively new ITU, (International Telecommunications Union), video conferencing standard. Duo video sends two video streams out to the other end point simultaneously. If your remote has a Duo Video button, you have this feature. If the other end has Duo Video they will receive both streams. You will be sending your live video image of yourself and the input, i.e. computer, document camera, etc. They will see you in their PIP, Picture and Picture, and your input as the large background image. If the other end has two monitors they will see you on one monitor and your input on the other monitor. Showing visual input other than you enhances communication. With visuals meeting time is shortened by 28% and retention increases by more than 50%.

Who should I buy videoconferencing equipment from?

The most important part of your purchase decision is not so much what video conferencing equipment to buy, but whom to buy it from.  The potential vendor really needs to know their products and all the unique feature sets.  They should also know their competitors products and the competing system feature sets.  The main thing is that they support what they sell.  Unfortunately more often than not local resellers do not focus on the video conferencing product line and they drop the ball on support, especially on the training and roll outs.  If the vendor does not have a formal training program and does not give you an outline that specifically illustrates how they will train your staff, avoid purchasing the product from them.  If the vendor does not use video conferencing technology in their day to day operations, i.e. sales calls, support calls, etc. definitely do not purchase video conferencing from these vendors — They do not believe in the technology.

The first thing to look for is on the salesman’s business card.  If there is no public video number, (IP address), or link to a video conference app on the salesman’s card do not purchase from them.   If you were buying a company aircraft would you make this major purchase from a salesman who didn’t use this aircraft to see you?  This is the same with video conferencing.  No obvious video access on the salesman’s business card is a leading indicator of the lack of service and support you will subsequently get after installation.  They are telling you to believe and purchase a technology that they themselves do not use.

Who is selling video conferencing technology?

The local phone company is one source, however many client’s experience a lack of product knowledge and support.   The phone company wants only to sell local loop; long distance and circuits they often look at video conferencing as a lost leader and thus very little attention is given to the product line.

Audio Visual Integrator’s are another source.  Again very little attention is given to video conferencing by A/V integrators.  They want to automate the conference room with the latest presentation technology.   They are often intimidated when the client asks about video conferencing.  A few A/V integrator’s however are very knowledgeable and definitely worth working with.  Ask questions on their experience and ask for references from clients who purchased video conferencing.

Computer companies are another source, however if their main revenue comes from computer support — You may not get the support you require for a video conferencing roll-out.  The best source is a company who focuses on video conferencing and uses it every day.

How does Skype connect to videoconferencing equipment in the boardroom?

We need to distinguish the difference between Skype and videoconferencing equipment in the boardroom.  First Skype is free and functions through a proprietary video conferencing protocol.  Video conferencing equipment in the boardroom works through a standards based, ITU (International Telecommunications Union), protocol.   Inherently these video conferencing endpoints cannot connect directly to each other – But in the video conferencing world there is always a way around everything.

Although ubiquitous, Skype has many issues and has been rejected by the enterprise and business in general.  The first problem is it uses a proprietary protocol.  The second problem Skype yields poor video quality.  The third problem there are a limited number of participants and the MAC application has bugs.  The fourth problem with Skype there is no real security.  The fifth problem — connections are unreliable.  Skype is really for consumers and not well liked or used in the business environment where critical meetings are taking place.  All this said there are times when one wants to connect the board room with Skype. 

You can connect to the board room from your Skype by going to a third party video conferencing bridge service or cloud based video conferencing service.  The other option is to purchase a gateway that will translate Skype’s proprietary protocol to the standards based video conferencing protocols.   It is’ best to use a service if you really need to connect with Skype. BlueJeans is a cloud based video conferencing bridging service that will connect Skype, Lync and other video conferencing end points.   One caveat is you will not have seamless collaboration for computer input and a reliable mobile device connection. 

 Some users experience a kind of “Tower of Babel” experience with numerous proprietary video conferencing endpoints connecting through a gateway or cloud based video conferencing service.  Several video conferencing manufactures solved this problem by offering a free app that seamlessly connects to any standard video conferencing system with seamless computer collaboration.  Over time Skype and others will be forced to either change to the ITU video conferencing standards or cease to exist. In the end the standards based systems will prevail and that will make video conferencing easy with just about any endpoint.

What is a videoconferencing bridge and why would I need one?

 

A video conferencing bridge is a piece of hardware or imbedded firmware in a video conferencing CODEC or system.   Similar to conference calling or three way calling on your cell phone, a video conferencing bridge connects more than 2 end points at one time.   If you envision calling not more than four locations on a video conferencing call at one time, most manufactures offer a built-in MCU feature, (Multipoint Conferencing Unit), on a standalone video conferencing CODEC.  This allows you to connect to four locations simultaneously including the host or main location.  If you anticipate conferencing to more than two locations simultaneously on a weekly basis the MCU feature would yield a great benefit.   Keep in mind that MCU feature requires more bandwidth at the host location or the location of the MCU.

Some manufactures have MCU firmware for a CODEC that will connect up to nine locations, however much more bandwidth is required.  Additionally continuous presence may become an issue with a built-in 9 port bridge. Continuous presence simply means you can see all 9 locations simultaneously just like The Brady Bunch intro or Hollywood Squares.  Some manufactures say they can do 9 locations at one time, but they fail to mention that only 4 locations are seen and the other five are on audio only.  If a manufacturer offers 9 locations make sure you have continuous presence as an option.

For a very large enterprise or bridge Service Company a “fixed” video conferencing bridge is required.  Fixed video conferencing bridges can connect anywhere from 20 to hundreds of locations simultaneously.  Additionally you can have separate simultaneous meetings.  For example if your fixed bridge has 20 ports you can have four separate meetings with five locations each in the morning and two separate meetings with ten locations each in the afternoon.  Additionally, most fixed videoconferencing bridges can connect mobile devices and standard telephone connections.   Large enterprises appreciate the power of a fixed video conferencing bridge as they have a profound return on investment through far less travel and a substantial increase in productivity.

What is the best way to connect videoconferencing?

The best way to connect videoconferencing is the way most everyone who uses video conferencing connects – through the ITU standards. The ITU is the International Telecommunications Union based in Geneva, Switzerland.  Its membership includes 192 member states and more than 700 Sector members and associates.  The ITU is a 145 year institution.  This is what they do:

  • Agency for information and communication technology issues
  • Coordinates the shared global use of the radio spectrum
  • Promotes international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits
  • Works to improve telecommunication infrastructure
  • Fosters seamless interconnection of communications systems
  • Develop and establish worldwide communication standards (for more info: www.itu.int)

 

The first reliable and subsequently ubiquitous ITU standard for video conferencing was H.320 used through ISDN/BRI circuits. This became the most common way to video conference in the mid to late 90’s.  Although the connection for video conferencing was reliable on H.320 there were big drawbacks.  The disadvantages with the H.320 standard are: high long distance charges; high international tariff fees; difficulty with international conferences without an international long distance carrier; and very high bandwidth cost.  When you dialed using H.320 you dialed a standard ten digit phone number that would cascade to a series of up to (8) ten digit phone numbers automatically.  These calls went though the local phone company’s central office and you were billed accordingly for the circuits and the long distance.  Long distance alone on a video call could easily exceed $70.00 per hour.  Needless to say there was an economic incentive towards developing an IP, (Internet protocol), standard.

The next ITU standard is H.323.  This is an IP, (internet protocol,) standard whereby almost 90% of the video conferencing world uses this standard today.  The H.323 standard eliminates just about all of the problems experienced with H.320 on ISDN/BRI circuits.   No more long distance charges; Seamless international calls with no International long distance carriers; and much lower cost of bandwidth. The H.323 works seamlessly through a variety of networks including, T-1, DSL, Cable, wireless, etc.  The most likely standard to replace H.323 will be SIP, (session initiation protocol).  Currently this is the standard for VoIP, (Voice over IP).  This is a more open standard than H.323 and will allow more interoperability among manufacturer end points.  This big disadvantage — SIP is not ubiquitous for video conferencing yet.  Most new video conferencing systems accommodate both H.323 and SIP.

Who makes the best videoconferencing products?

The good news – Just about every manufacturer of video conferencing end points makes the best products.  It’s difficult to make really bad decision on a video conferencing end point or CODEC, (Coder Decoder), as its commonly called within the industry.

If you are considering video conferencing for your conference room don’t worry about who makes the best equipment.  You need to dig deep into the unique feature set of each manufacturer to see if it supports your primary application.  For example if mobile video conferencing is critical you need to pick a manufacturer who has a free video conferencing app that seamlessly connects to the CODEC.    If recording is critical you need to pick a CODEC that can easily record a meeting without worrying about cumbersome connections with a DVR and a second remote.  If multi-site is critical you need a CODEC that can do multi-site in continuous presence.  Continuous presence means you can see everybody at the same time, like on Hollywood Squares.  Be careful here because some solutions will tell you they can connect up to 9 locations simultaneously, but what they don’t tell you it’s NOT continuous presence.  In many cases the CODEC will only display 4 locations at the same time while you hear the other 5 on audio only.   One of our newly acquired clients made this mistake with their former vendor.  They were under the impression that the CODEC will connect all 9 locations in continuous presence and found out the hard way that it only shows 4 on video even though all are connected.  This is a critical part of their application and they become most disappointed.  They have plans to replace this CODEC and re-deploy the current CODEC to another location.  The good news here is that everything is standards based, thus making the upgrade solution relatively easy.

Make sure the CODEC is standards based.  The two standards are H.323 and SIP – Both standards are built into every new CODEC these days.  It’s difficult to find a manufacturer who does not build with both standards included.  This being said another newly acquired client found one company who made a SIP only CODEC.  The problem is that 90% of worldwide video conferencing is connecting through H.323.  SIP is the primary standard for Voip but not for video.  This client could not conference with anybody after spending more than $24,000.00.  We were surprised that a company was making a conference room CODEC with only SIP. Even though just about every manufacturer makes the best products there are one or two that don’t.

Who makes videoconferencing equipment?

There are about a dozen manufacturers of video conferencing equipment. Most make very good reliable products. Manufactures include: Avaya; Cisco; Polycom; Logitech; Sony; Aver; Panasonic; LG and others. The main thing to consider is that they build to the ITU, (International Telecommunications Union), standards. The most ubiquitous standard for video conferencing is H.323 over IP. Another video standard is SIP, or Sessions Initiation Protocol. SIP is most common in VoIP, (voice over IP), applications but no so common in video conferencing applications yet. The good news is most manufactures build to these standards and most systems connect reliably to each other.

Recently larger companies purchased smaller video conferencing equipment manufactures. For example Cisco purchased Tandberg, Logitech purchased LifeSize and Avaya purchased Radvision. Although their products communicate relatively seamlessly to each other, they each have unique features that could have some impact on your particular application. Make sure the manufacture has a well established reseller network to give you the local support and help you identify features best suited for your application. One example of a unique feature is found in Avaya’s Radvision solution. They have what they call a desktop feature that allows anyone with a computer, PC or MAC, iPad, Droid etc. to connect to the video conferencing system through a free downloadable application. If you are connecting to customers, vendors and others critical to your business and they do not have video conferencing equipment, this unique feature will have a major impact.

Support should include a formal training program for your roll-out and deployment. The better manufactures have these programs in place and implement them through the dealers and resellers in the field.

The demand for video conferencing hardware increases every year and we will certainly see new manufactures emerge. Some will offer a low cost solution with limited features; others will offer high end solutions with many features. In time cost will continue to be more competitive and the equipment will keep getting better.