The Soft Codec Lowdown

1/8/2015 4:47:00 PM
By Mike Brandes, CTS, DMC-D
Mercifully, the days of video conferencing and telepresence systems that occupy an entire room are coming to a close.
 
There are certainly still uses for these rooms, but now users looking to connect with remote sites, or collaborate with colleagues around the world have new options that don’t involve them getting up from their desktop to hold online meetings.
 
For several years now, an increasing number of AV manufacturers have been crafting products designed to turn desktops, laptops and tablets into full-scale videoconferencing solutions. As the idea within the industry of ‘convergence’ has grown, many teleconferencing providers have debuted software-based systems that enable users to have the same functionality at their desk as they would in their videoconferencing suite.
 
Some companies have done a tremendous job of leveraging desktop based conferencing solutions, using a soft codec and a professional grade camera and microphones, such as a Vaddio HD-USB camera or HuddleSTATION solution with Microsoft Lync or Polycom Realpresence. But some companies haven’t quite completely adopted professional quality, desktop-based, videoconferencing. Whether they are clinging to legacy room-based systems with a full codec and camera; using consumer grade $99 webcams in larger room and wondering why the audio quality isn’t there; procuring professional grade equipment designed to interface with their USB enabled devices and then holding all their meetings over Skype or ooVoo; or even worse, they don’t see the value in videoconferencing and are painstakingly conducting all their meetings via conference phones when not walking across their complex/campus to meet face-to-face—wasting countless time and money.
 
If your company happens to fall into the first category, congratulations, I’d love to talk with you about your success story in bringing your company up to date. If you’re still struggling to adopt a professional quality, software-based, videoconferencing solution, the time to do so is now. For the most part, it’s pretty easy to get the ball rolling and start your organization on the path to success.
 
There are many hardware manufacturers designing professional quality products created to interface with software-based conferencing solutions, but I will focus on software-based solutions themselves here as it’s more important to pick the backbone than the input device, and hardware requirements will drastically change whether meetings are taking place on a user’s laptop or in a large boardroom. Here are a few of the software-based solutions that I’ve worked with, along with my thoughts (in no particular order):

Skype: A great tool for connecting personally over videoconferencing, but at this time, not a legitimate solution for business. This software is plagued with security issues, video quality fluctuates, and there is limited ability for whiteboard/screenshare.
 
ooVoo: Worse than Skype. I wouldn’t even use it to keep in touch with family/friends. I would rather talk over the phone, or through smoke signals. Bonus: they once emailed my password in plain text in an email.
 
Polycom RealPresence Desktop: Not outrageously priced, by any means. It has the ability to connect with H.323 rooms and use SIP (if available) all from your desktop. No cloud service is required if all your legacy systems are Polycom.
 
Jabber: Also allows desktop users to connect with installed room systems. In my experience, I’ve found some issues with video integrity making point-to-point calls via Jabber that are not present when running through a bridge. Jabber provides excellent diagnostics, including bandwidth and camera information.
 
Vidyo: I like it—a lot. It provides a great deal of functionality, allowing you to connect point-to-point or to your room. Vidyo also allows for screen sharing by individual window if desired. Users can manually set video resolution they’d like to send, which is especially important for communication in low-bandwidth settings.
 
Zoom: Provides users with a large amount of functionality on the business class license, a fair amount of functionality on the pro class license and a very generous amount of functionality on the basic (free) license. Users can join by h323 room systems, and the solution has in-browser plug-ins for Chrome for users that do not have admin rights to install software to join meetings.
 
Acano: Not sure on the price, but it offers a lot of functionality, including a WebRTC option, which offers Chrome OS users the chance to use professional grade conferencing from their Chromebox/Chromebook. Also, I found the cospace, their virtual meeting room, to be a nice feature while I was testing the product.
 
BlueJeans: A fantastic cloud service that allows users to connect through a variety of channels, including Google hangouts to allow those pesky Chrome OS users to join professional meetings. BlueJeans has a browser-based plug-in for those not connecting by hangouts/323/Lync etc.
 
GoToMeeting: This software provides users with a fair degree of functionality at a moderate price, for $56.99/organizer/month, up to 100 people can attend the meeting. A free version is also offered for up to three participants; I’d highly recommend this for small conferencing needs.

This list is in no way, shape or form exhaustive. The available options are growing each and every day as computer-based conferencing continues expanding and evolving. Grab your favorite professional-grade peripherals and enable your huddle room to have plug-and-play conferencing capabilities to kiss costly room-based systems goodbye.

[Watch for the February print edition of SCN to read about where unified communications is taking you next, how AV integrators are working with IT departments to implement UC systems, and how integrators are cashing in on the cloud and software.]

Mike Brandes, CTS, has over a decade of experience in AV/IT, previously working in full time touring audio, studio recording, broadcast, higher education technology management and video production settings. He is currently an applications engineer at Vaddio. Read more of his writing at http://mikebrandesav.com/.

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