Either of the terms “videoconferencing” or “video conferencing” suffice to describe a face-to-face meeting or discussion held between two or more parties in two or more locations by means of audio and video technologies.
Video conferencing systems have been around for a long time, but advances in data network technologies resulting in the growth and ubiquity of the Internet have accelerated their widespread adoption. Originally so expensive only large businesses could afford video conferencing systems in “board rooms,” the equipment needed to have a face-to-face meeting is now built-in to mobile phones, tablets, and laptops. The entire set of audio, video, telecommunications, and messaging technologies are also sometimes referred to as Converged or Unified Communications.
The ease with which anyone can initiate a video call or video conference belies the complexity of the systems behind it.
Video Conferencing Equipment
The term “video conferencing equipment” encompasses the hardware and software required to receive and redistribute the audio and video data streams to every participant’s “video conferencing endpoint” during a conference. The term “hardware” is used loosely because many “servers” are now “virtual machines,” or emulations of a set of hardware processors, memory, and disk storage. The software matched to appropriate hardware provides any, all, or some of the following functionality and features expected in a video conference:
- Chat support: enabling participants to type messages to each other or all attendees in real time.
- Desktop sharing support: Enables a participant to share an active window on his/her workstation to all other participants.
- Dual Monitor support: Enables one screen to display remote conference participants, and one screen to display a shared desktop or uploaded document.
- Video Quality: VGA, HQ, HD, or Ultra-HD support have increasingly intensive computational capacities.
- Whiteboard: ability to display the contents of an electronic whiteboard to all participants.
- Upload PPT/PDF/Doc: Enables the uploading of a Powerpoint presentation, PDF document, Text Document for subsequent display on all particants’ screens. This could be in lieu of screen sharing functionality.
- Mobile device support: Attend meeting via any subset or combination of iPad, iPhone, Android phone or tablet, Blackberry devices.
- Host from Mobile Device: Organizer and host can control the meeting from a supported mobile device.
- Secure Access: Restricts participants to recipients of unique meeting ID numbers and passcodes.
- Encrypted communications between server and devices.
- Cloud based: No software download to any participant device required, no servers are required in any of the participants’ data centers.
- Recording: Ability to record meeting for later viewing as a simple video.
An overview of some of the comprehensive systems offered by the largest competitors in this industry will follow in later posts.
Video Conferencing Endpoints
Video conferencing endpoints include the cameras, speakers, and displays and the processors to control them. Purpose-built endpoints provide connections for PCs or other input devices for screen sharing, chat, or conference control. Simply stated, they are the things through which people participate in a video conference.
More sophisticated systems designed for large conference rooms can include multiple cameras and microphones, the ability to auto zoom to the person speaking in a large conference room with several attendees, multiple video screen control, digital sound processing (echo and noise reduction, sound quality, uniform volume), etc. The opposite end of the spectrum of video conferencing endpoints includes mobile devices with display-side (“selfie”) cameras. Between these extremes lay PCs with high quality cameras and microphones, and most recently, endpoints designed for optimal performance in small conference rooms or “huddle spaces.”