Videoconferencing has come a long way since AT&T’s PicturePhone in the 1970s. Now broader in scope and sophistication, the technology that was initially seen as a tool for the hard-of-hearing and deaf community is now an integral communication conduit for a wide range of industries, and is finding greater use in K-12 classrooms across the country.
The evolution of videoconferencing has been helped along by the development of a set of key trends that include the rapid development of high-definition solutions such as telepresence, new management services that take the difficulty out of maintaining a videoconferencing system, and the increased attention paid to the exact uses of the systems themselves.
“Videoconferencing today is very different than 10 years ago,” says Tom Toperczer, Vice President of Marketing for cloud-based videoconferencing service, Nefsis. “Ten years ago there [was] only one choice and it was… videoconferencing hardware for the boardroom. Today we have telepresence at the high end, which is hardware-based at an installed site. We’ve got consumer video calling, which is a free online service for consumers on the low end. In the middle, you have cloud-based videoconferencing services such as Nefsis. The big thing decision makers need to know is that there are a variety of choices now, not just one.”
Toperczer’s observation is echoed by Brian Rhatigan, CTS, Business Development Manager for U.S. consumer product distributor, Almo Professional AV. Rhatigan notes that “there are an overwhelming number of manufacturers that are offering solutions and essentially they are all aimed at accomplishing the same thing. However, there are subtle differences in features and architecture that may or may not be important to the user.”
Significant among these varied architectures is the increasing popularity of telepresence, which is essentially a videoconference that utilizes multiple large high-definition screens and a directional audio system to create a real-feel meeting environment where participants are rendered life-size. Though currently rather expensive, the advantage of a telepresence system lies in the immersive quality of the experience, making it distinctly ideal for corporate and education uses where the spirit of collaboration and the exchanging of ideas are essential. Two telepresence systems that have been enjoying success in a variety of environments include Polycom’s RealPresence Immersive solution, which uses an open software platform that allows interoperability with more 2 million standard video systems; and Cisco Systems’ TelePresence System 3010, a three-screen design that seats six participants on each side of the virtual table.
As Nefsis’ Toperczer mentioned, cloud-based videoconferencing systems are also enjoying a high profile. Such services often work as a subscription model that offer the video online conferencing software as part of the package, effectively taking the responsibility of troubleshooting sophisticated systems out of the hands of the IT team.
“The IT manager needs to get a grip on all of the hidden costs of videoconferencing,” Toperczer notes. “[Those] include online collaboration, desktop gateway service, multichannel mixing—all of the capabilities that you used to get from infrastructure hardware—all of those capabilities are built into the cloud. For anyone that is undertaking a new videoconferencing project, the best thing they can do is round up all of the cost involved.”
Indeed, cost, ease-of-use and performance abilities can all define a videoconferencing system as a great addition to the technology roster of a business or induce end-user frustration upon installation. With the plethora of options available, collaboration between the system integrator and an organization’s technology project manager is increasingly vital. These two leaders can outline not only how the videoconferencing system will be used, but also how that use may evolve over time.
“To achieve widespread adoption, decision makers must become aware of the [financial] value of videoconferencing,” says Randal Maestre, Global Director of Industry Solutions at telepresence manufacturer, Polycom. “Travel savings is a given, so understanding how the technology can be integrated into the way that [educational institutions operate] becomes paramount to long-term usage.”
As Rhatigan notes, in the education sector, for example, knowledge dissemination and educational equity are often a challenge. “[Video] conferencing solutions open the door to interactive learning with remote campuses, virtual subject matter experts and rich content providers,” he says.
Maestre outlines some of the cost savings schools can accrue when he asks, “what are the key organizational goals, objectives and success metrics? What are the applications of the videoconferencing system? And, how will you integrate the system into existing communications solutions? The latter of which, Maestre says, addresses the future proofing of the investment and ensures compatibility throughout the system.