Video Conferencing (AKA Telepresence) is the next big thing in business communications. Make no mistake, Video Conferencing is not simply a high-tech replacement for the conference phone, it is an eternal solution to many communications shortcomings in business, and a wishing well overflowing with ROI.
Forget your Object Fixation - a little creativity goes a long way when using Video Conferencing. Make sure to read Benefits of Video Conferencing, for a list of applicable video-based solutions to your business setbacks and see an exponential increase in productivity.
There are a lot of alternatives in designing a Video Conferencing solution. Here is a good place to begin to learn the differences in your options. For more in-depth descriptions of system components, please read, Types of Video Conferencing Equipment.
Personal vs. Room-based
This is where you will always begin. You must determine whether you are looking for a solution for an individual or if this will be for multiple-people. This decision is independent of how many sites will be involved in the eventual Video Conference, and of how many video endpoints will be housed at your site. For example, the managers and CEO will have a personal system while the conference room will have a Room-Based system. There are more fine-tuning options after you have decided between a Personal and a Room-Based system.
Personal System - Desktop vs. Codec
In a Personal System scenario, you must choose between a Desktop and a Codec solution. The difference between the two options is in both finance and function. The Desktop Solution is the less expensive option in that you use a software client downloaded to your computer and an accompaniment of hardware accessories including a webcam, microphone, and speakers. The basic functions are the same although the features are limited.
The Codec Solution is, hands-down, a higher quality solution. There are higher-quality camera options, greater Far End controls, Video Recording capabilities, and system placement options – wall-mounted is the typical choice, and offers more freedom of movement. Although this is a more expensive option, the huge jumps in form and function make it an obvious choice for upper management and C-level employees.
Point-to-Point vs. Multiway
This is a set of terms that is used very frequently in Video Conferencing. Quite literally, this is the choice between the numbers of participants on a given video call that is initiated by a Video Conferencing system. You will need to know how many sites you wish to host on a call before making your purchase. Point-to-point means my system calls your system – that’s it. Multiway means that my system can call your system, his system, and her system all at the same time.
To break it down, systems can either place a video call to one site or to multiple sites at a time. Any Video Conferencing system can initiate a point-to-point video call. Any Video Conferencing system can participate in a multiway call. Only Video Conferencing systems with embedded MCUs, or Multiple Control Units, can host multiway calls without the purchase of additional (and expensive) hardware.
Near End vs. Far End
This is a simple way to allow Video Conferencing users to know the location of reference. The Near End is where you are. The Far End is where the other people are. This is user-subjective, and can also be described as My Near End, and Your Near End. This is important to understand when you are configuring your system setup preferences. Video Conferencing systems involving a Codec, or the hardware brains of your system can allow Far End camera control, which will permit the other sites involved in a video call to move your camera around the room.
Side note - allowing the other participants to control your camera can be especially helpful when they want to scan the room, or to focus-in on specific speakers. You can also set camera presets on individuals, whiteboards, project boards, and etcetera. Allowing the other participant to scroll-through the presets with a push of a button will allow your site to maintain the flow of the conversation while the Far End user interacts naturally with your Near End – as if he or she were in the room and free to look about as he or she pleased.
SIP vs. H.323
Video calls can be connected using either the SIP or H.323 protocols. What is the difference? H.323 is the preferred method of Video Conferencing call signaling and control. SIP can handle a basic video call, although it cannot control the bandwidth management, lip synchronization, nor deliver a data-share stream. The H.323 protocol was designed for use with voice, video, and media and can, therefore, properly handle the important video call characteristics.
Voice-Activated Switching vs. Continuous Presence
While setting-up your room-based systems, you can choose how your Video Conference is seen on your display by choosing Voice-Activated Switching or Continuous Presence in your setting preferences. With Voice-Activated Switching, your display will show the active speaker – if you are the active speaker, you will see the last speaker. If you choose Continuous Presence, your display will show all of the participants all the time, up-to the maximum number of displayed participants.
With the use of a Bridge, you can host many sites, and systems have a distinct limit on the number of sites that can be displayed. A multiway call that surpasses the presence display limit will benefit greatly from Voice-Activated Switching whereas a host of a multiway call with a small number of sites may choose to view everyone all the time.
For more specific information, please be sure to read, Types of Video Conferencing Systems, and Types of Video Conferencing Equipment.