What is the difference between Standard Def and High Def videoconferencing?

If you have cable or direct satellite service in your home and you upgraded your service to include high definition you can clearly see the difference.   If you watch the Golf Channel you can see in detail the grass blades on the putting greens.  You can see how our newscasters aged right before your eyes as you can now see every wrinkle their faces.

Videoconferencing is no different – You will see details clearly at the other end.  Three things determine high definition video conferencing. First the camera needs to be a high definition camera.  Most of your web cams are high definition cameras used on the desktop and notebook computers.   In the board room or conference room, stand alone video conferencing CODECs, (video conferencing systems), has a high definition camera.  The second requirement is bandwidth. You can do quality standard definition video conferencing at 384kbps.   High definition video conferencing requires a minimum of 768kbps.  If you include collaboration, i.e. showing computer input, your bandwidth requirement doubles in any event.  Keep in mind that you need high definition cameras, CODECS and enough bandwidth at both end points to have a high definition video conferencing call.   The third requirement is the flat panel display.   These days it is difficult to find a flat panel display that doesn’t accommodate high definition.

Bandwidth is continually getting more efficient and cost more competitive. Over time high definition video conferencing will certainly be expected.   This being said, audio is the most critical part of the video conference whether you are using standard definition, SD or high definition, HD video conferencing.  One of the most compelling studies done on video conferencing includes a test that degraded the video quality and increased the audio quality and conversely in another call, decreased the video quality and increased the audio quality.  Participants perceived that the videoconferencing quality was much better on the call with the increased audio quality and decreased video quality.  The conclusion here is that standard video conferencing with quality audio is still very much viable and useful and uses much less bandwidth.

What about Mobile videoconferencing?

Video conferencing is well established in the conference room; however the new “killer app” is mobile video conferencing.  Do you really need mobile video conferencing?  Think about the communication access in your conference room right now.  Chances are you have a speaker phone, internet access and maybe video conferencing.   Right now anybody can connect to your conference room speaker phone from anywhere including a cell phone. There are times when an important person needs to connect via cell to the conference room offering input or a final decision on a critical issue.  This is seamless access via a cell phone to the conference room.  You should have the same access via video conference – Especially when there is critical decision to me made with the help of an outside participant.

Mobile videoconferencing is hot right now – FaceTime; Skype; ClearSea and others are certainly making mobile video conferencing more popular than ever.  The problem with apps like FaceTime and Skype is that they operate through proprietary protocols.  Also, it’s cumbersome to connect to the standards based video conferencing systems you may have in your conference room.  The challenge with mobile videoconferencing in the enterprise is seamless access from a laptop; iPad; iPhone; Droid; PC or MAC.  Small and medium sized businesses really need a standards based solution that connects to any device.  The good news is some manufactures already offer seamless access on standards based video conferencing through a free app on any device, including PC or MAC computers. 

The race is on in regard to mobile video conferencing.  There will be winners and losers.  The winners in the business world will have a standards based free application model that connects to any legacy system anywhere in the world.  The losers will have proprietary protocols that only connect within their own communication silo.   This would be like a Verizon cell phone not able to connect to T-Mobile or AT&T cell phones.  

The power of mobile video conferencing is incredible and will have a tremendous impact on productivity. Critical decisions will be made faster; trouble shooting in the field will be much more efficient; and field sales support will accelerate.  All this goes directly to the bottom line with increased revenue.

If you have any ideas about mobile video conferencing applications call us.  We will certainly listen. 330.677.5566.

Can I cost effectively have my own video conferencing bridge?

A video conferencing bridge or MCU, Multipoint Control Unit, can be most affordable in two basic scenarios, First, if you are a small company who conferences often with not more than 4 endpoints at a time and Second, if you are  a very large enterprise with many locations worldwide with video conference endpoints at each location.

Let’s analyze the first scenario — a small company who conferences often with not more than 4 endpoints.  Many video conferencing units or CODECS have an MCU firmware option to connect 4 simultaneous endpoints at one time.  The MCU option at this level is relatively inexpensive, several thousand dollars.  If your small business needs to conference with other offices, the supply chain, key accounts, investors, your own MCU can easily pay for itself in several months.  One example is project management — You may need to meet with the project manager, the client, a key vendor and the on-site engineer all at the same time to make a critical decision.  In this meeting you may need to collaborate with computer input, show video clips and the on-site engineer may need to show live video to all parties in real time from his iPhone, Droid or other mobile device.   This allows critical decisions to be made quickly and problems addressed immediately.  An in house MCU, Multipoint Control Unit, can have a major impact on a small or medium sized enterprise.

The second scenario is very large enterprise with domestic and international locations and video conferencing endpoints at each location.   A fixed bridge, or large rack mountable bridge, will pay for itself quickly.  Most fixed bridges can accommodate multiple meetings simultaneously.  For example if a large enterprise had a 100 port bridge and enough bandwidth in their network they can have 10 separate meetings with 10 participants each taking place simultaneously.

 Most fixed bridges can be sliced and diced “on-the fly” into various sized meeting rooms.  The same 100 port bridge can have 4 meetings with 25 participants each or 25 meetings with 4 participants each.  Also fixed bridges have easy scheduling meeting management software that seamlessly works with Microsoft Outlook and other contact management.  Some fixed bridges have a mobile app or desktop feature that accommodates an endpoint that may not have video conferencing equipment at their location.  This opens more opportunities to communicate visually with constituencies important to the enterprise that would otherwise be unreachable with video conferencing.  An internal MCU, Multipoint Control Unit, can create time, increase productivity and allow your enterprise to be much more efficient.   It’s like having a private business jet without the expense and travel risk.            

Why would I want high def videoconferencing / do I really need HD Videoconferencing?

High Definition video conferencing requires high definition cameras, more bandwidth and a flat panel display that accommodates HD — All of these costs more.   There is visual power in video conferencing whether it’s high definition, HD or standard definition, SD.   In fact if you are collaborating or sharing computer input in a video conference this input is transmitted to the other side in true XGA resolution, even on a  SD  or standard definition video call.  So if details are important in computer input you may not need HD video conferencing.   If on the other hand you are a field engineer and you need to show details of a malfunctioning machine on the factory floor from your iPad, which has a high definition camera, you would definitely see a huge benefit in having HD video conferencing.

The key in determining whether you need high definition videoconferencing is found in your application.  For example if you are a doctor and you are seeing patients remotely, high definition would certainly make a big difference in determining symptoms.   If you are showing highly detailed documents through a document camera connected to your video conferencing system, high definition would certainly be required.   Keep in mind that even If you have high definition capability through your videoconferencing system you do not have to use all of the bandwidth required for HD. You can still connect via SD, standard definition to other locations with SD only.   Applications like job interviews, legal depositions, remote court room arraignments, and management meetings really don’t require HD video conferencing.

If you are purchasing new videoconferencing equipment for the first time you can only get HD, however as mentioned earlier you can still connect to legacy SD or standard definition end points seamlessly as long as they are on the ITU, (International Telecommunications Union), standard protocols.   Initially you may not need HD videoconferencing; however there may be future applications whereby HD will really benefit.  The key is to write down on paper your three main applications and one or two potential future applications to help you determine your need for HD high definition videoconferencing.

How much bandwidth is required for video conferencing?

The good news is that you do not need a huge amount of bandwidth to do video conferencing.  Manufacturers are constantly improving video conferencing algorithms to yield better quality video conferencing at lower bandwidth.  For example a new technology, SVC, Scalable Video Coding, soon will be an industry wide standard. Scalable Video Coding means your video quality is maintained even when there is packet loss on the network.  SVC offers high network error resiliency.

Although new video conferencing standards help there is still a requirement for a robust and reliable network to have a positive experience with video conferencing.  You need to determine several things before you decide the amount of bandwidth you require.   First – Do you want standard definition video conferencing, SD, or high definition video conferencing, HD?  Standard definition video conferencing, SD, only requires 384kbps, only about 1/3 of at T-1 circuit.  High definition video conferencing, HD requires up to 1mbps of bandwidth. This is a significant jump in bandwidth requirement from SD to HD.  Second – Do you need an MCU or Multipoint Conference Unit?  If you have a central office and three outside locations and you want to connect all four locations simultaneously you will need four times the amount of bandwidth at the central office. For example if you are connecting a multi-site call on standard definition or 384kbps per end-point you need four times that amount of bandwidth or 1.536mbps or a full T-1 circuit.  This requirement goes up accordingly for High Definition video conferencing.

Keep in mind that your network should be accommodating more than video conferencing.  You may need internet access for other applications like email, VoIP, wireless access for visitors, etc.   Potentially there could be conflicts and packet loss.  You may consider implementing MPLS or Multi Protocol Label Switching; this prioritizes packets that carry voice and video data.  When you are using your phone or video conferencing systems the network prioritizes this data — so during phone calls using VoIP or video conferencing these packets get sent before any other data. More unnoticeable applications will slow down, like email. These simple network configurations will have a major impact on your video conferencing quality.

The bottom line is you will need more bandwidth dedicated to video conferencing, especially if you are implementing this application for the first time in your company.  There is more good news as circuit providers are becoming more competitive. We suggest working with a CLEC or Competitive Local Exchange Carrier.  Often they offer more options, better pricing and much better customer service.


What is a videoconferencing bridge service and why would I use one?

Video conferencing bridge services are great to use if you do not have the budget for your own bridging hardware or firmware and you don’t have the required bandwidth on your network. Most video conferencing bridging services offer additional services like: recording; scheduling; mobile device and PC connections; standard telephone and cell phone connections; meeting coordination; etc.   Some services require an annual contract, others require no contract and you can rent bridge time by the minute or by the month.  Also, bridge service companies are using their bandwidth for conferences, not yours, so you don’t have to worry about video and audio quality.

Here are two suggestions when shopping for a video conferencing service.  First, test the service – Most reputable companies will allow you to test the connections at no cost to see the quality first hand.  Second, look at what they can connect to – for example: older legacy video conferencing systems; mobile devices; cell phones; PC’s;  MAC’s, etc.   Additionally, find out if they are affiliated with an International network of public video conferencing rooms?  This could be a tremendous help if you need to connect to a location overseas and there is no in-house video conferencing at that location.

Currently, there is a growing demand for connecting to mobile devices like iPads; iPhones; Droids, etc. Many video conferencing services have ways to seamlessly connect to these devices without the need for any special software on the device other than a free app download.  You can certainly test the video conferencing bridging services with mobile devices.  Make sure it is simple and completely intuitive for participants connecting to your conference on a PC or mobile device.  After they download a free app it should be no more than entering their name and a password or other meeting credential.

Video conferencing bridge services are also great to use if you are video conferencing once every month or quarter.  Pricing is very reasonable with most services, especially if you need bridging less frequently. 


How do I configure my network to accommodate videoconferencing?

Over the years companies new to purchasing and using video conferencing got excited about the application possibilities.  They would see a great demo with high quality video at the reseller’s office.  After their purchase buyer’s remorse would sometimes occur and they quickly become disappointed with the equipment because the quality video and audio seems very much degraded.   More often than not the equipment is fine – it’s the network.  Videoconferencing needs bandwidth and many times companies will purchase the hardware and not even consider their network.  If you are sharing your video conferencing application with email, internet access and other telecom functions your video conferencing quality will certainly suffer if you don’t have the proper amount of bandwidth and the correct network configuration.

The most important part of video conferencing is the network.  Before you even consider implementing video conferencing talk to your IT department, network administrator and circuit provider to see if there is enough bandwidth.  The good news is video conferencing technology is getting much more efficient with developments like SVC, (Scalable Video Coding), a video conferencing ITU standard.  Scalable Video Coding keeps the quality of video and audio very good in lower bandwidth environments.  Tiling and image freeze up are all but eliminated with systems that have scalable video coding, (SVC).

Back to the network requirements – First there are three things in video conferencing that will impact your network.  First, is your equipment SD standard definition or HD high definition video?  The later takes up 3 more times the bandwidth.  Second, will you use computer collaboration during a video? On HD this will double the bandwidth required.  Third, are you using an in-house MCU or multipoint control unit?  If the MCU accommodates four simultaneously connections, you need four times more bandwidth with either SD or HD equipment.  These are critical considerations that will impact your network.

One simple way is to purchase dedicated circuits that are exclusive to the video conferencing equipment. There are two benefits to this scenario.  One if your network goes down, you can still video conference because you don’t need a computer server, just the router.  Two there is no interruption in connection or quality of service when your main network is in heavy use.  Another solution is to implement MPLS or Multi Protocol Label Switching.  This prioritizes packets on the network.  Audio and video are given top priority through MPLS so during phone calls using VoIP or video conferencing these packets get sent before any other data.    These simple network configurations will have a major impact on your video conferencing quality.