The Ins And Outs Of Videoconferencing

by : Jason Cox

Videoconferencing is becoming more widespread. Given current political events and the recent tightening of budgets across campus, many are giving travel alternatives a second look. One such alternative is videoconferencing, and there are several resources available to answer basic questions.

The technology for conducting videoconferencing has become less expensive, more flexible, and now includes options for desktop videoconferencing as well as group videoconferencing.

One of the first considerations is usually how much equipment needs to be obtained. All successful teleconferencing requires good equipment. After all, the video output you receive and send is the whole reason for having a videoconference.

In general, videoconferencing requires a desktop system, a camera, audio capabilities and controls to allow users to place calls, adjust volume, and run the camera functions. Desktop systems display controls and tools on the monitor window.

Both Windows and Macintosh systems have videoconferencing programs loaded by default in their operating systems. Those running Windows 98 or newer can use NetMeeting. Macintosh users have access to iChat AV. There are other software packages available for sale or free download that are compatible with both OS, and that will also enable Window to Mac videoconferencing.

Dedicated videoconferencing systems work to streamline the video conferencing process by incorporating all necessary equipment into one piece of hardware. This one system includes the network, audio, and visual components needed for a videoconference.

Small, portable systems are available for single users, or large, non-portable systems are available for companies with more diverse needs. Be aware that the prices of dedicated systems vary widely, depending upon their capabilities. Entire rooms can be dedicated to videoconferencing.

Videoconferencing can cost as little as the price of a budget-conscious web cam ($100) per seat to more than $15,000 per conference room. Currently there are three distinct categories defined by primarily by client usage.

Desktop videoconferencing clients are assigned to a single user. They cost between $600 and $3,000 for a hardware-based system and up to $150 for a software-only client. For personal videoconferencing, a headset is often the preferred choice because it can eliminate any echo or reverb effect. Plan on spending an average of $50 for a good headset. Connectivity is over IP.

Either an appliance that costs between $3,000 and $12,000 or a PC-based system that costs between $6,000 and $14,000 is used for small-group videoconferencing. Systems are relatively easy to configure and use. They run over ISDN or IP.

Large group/boardroom require the highest-quality video. They also come with the highest price tag, with systems starting at $10,000. For room videoconferencing (such as a seminar or an on-line class), a high quality multi-directional microphone is often used, or several smaller directional microphones are placed throughout the room. The price tag for a good omni directional system will run around $8,000. Several higher quality cameras also need to be placed around the room, at an average cost of $200 per camera.

When investigating the ins and out of videoconferencing, the reliability of the technology should be considered. Look for simplicity, compatibility, and connectivity as well as just reliability; they seem to go hand in glove.

Any equipment should be capable of being used day in and day out and able to place and receive calls with 100% reliability. When things go wrong, its a good practice to have built-in remote diagnostics in place. Feature enhancements and system upgrades should be available by download.

Todays videoconferencing equipment is easy to install and easier to operate. The average person can become comfortable with videoconferencing with only ten minutes of training. Multiple companies exist, however, for those who want to become more proficient.

Every videoconferencing system bought should be standards-compliant. Systems running on IDSN must be H-320 compliant. The international standard for videoconferencing with IP is H-323. Any videoconferencing system should be IP ready and have a guaranteed upgrade path.

For peak performance, Calls should be routed over the most optimal paths, whether IP or ISDN, to ensure the highest degree of videoconferencing success.

Platform independence should support all endpoint videoconferencing hardware. State of the art equipment should be used whenever possible.

In recent years, several companies have emerged that are valuable resources to help schools and businesses with videoconferencing. These services provide guaranteed teleconferencing reliability and highly secure, global network operations centers. Most have around-the-clock customer service.

In addition, these companies act as a leasing agent for your conference room needs. This is a completely outsourced solution that provides the full management of your videoconferencing application including network, bridges, endpoints, scheduling, and full technical support. Help is an email or phone call away.