Internet revives hope for videoconferencing

InfoWorld |  Software

Of course, it helps to understand what your business requirements are before you dive in. The best sources of information are the people who will use your deployment to conduct meetings. Attend a few conferences and ask the people who frequently deliver presentations what kinds of audiovisual tools they need.

For example, if all your company's meetings consist of simple PowerPoint presentations, a full-blown videoconferencing solution will not be necessary. But your company may be at the other end of the spectrum and need several video and audio sources to switch seamlessly from one to another.

In complex cases, you may have to shell out for a complete production and broadcasting center with multiple cameras and microphones and then connect that equipment to a Web conferencing server. That could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thankfully, most videoconferencing implementations lie somewhere between these two extremes.

Another factor to consider is whether attendees should be able to talk back to the presenter. If not, the job becomes much easier to manage: You can simply create a video clip of the presentation, combining images and sound into a single, easy-to-manage file that can be delivered over the Web. Those files can also be reused, which is handy for participants who could not attend the meeting itself or for those who want to review part of the presentation.

And because most PCs have sound cards that enable them to receive popular streaming video and audio formats (such as Apple QuickTime, Microsoft Windows Media, and RealNetworks RealPlayer), even the nontechnically inclined can access the files.

If, however, the attendees must be able to talk to the presenter, you may have to address networking and infrastructure issues. Until recently, the biggest obstacle to the general acceptance of videoconferencing was bandwidth. For you to view a video clip at an acceptable speed, your communications pipe must deliver a steady flow of 30 frames per second, which requires bandwidth of at least 64Kbps.

Again, the Internet can come to the rescue. Before the advent of the Internet, you had to rely on technologies such as ISDN or dedicated intercompany links to ensure proper videoconferencing quality. Now, thanks to the Web, you can dramatically cut the cost and complexity of videoconferencing because many attendees already have broadband connections.

But the more interaction required between the attendees and the presenter, the more onerous the hardware and software requirements are for the broadcasting center and for each participant. Do you want the participants to be able to post questions? Should the speaker be able to see the attendees? Should the attendees be empowered to annotate documents? Each of these capabilities adds to the complexity of the system.

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