WHAT IS VIDEOCONFERENCING?
Videoconferencing, or videoteleconferencing (VTC) and visual collaboration as it is also known, is becoming an increasingly popular tool in corporate office environments. It can save a company money by eliminating expensive travel costs. It is a reliable, quick and easy way to communicate with just one person in a company or multiple people at the same time.
People can connect remotely to a videoconference so they do not have to leave their location, and so videoconferencing is also an environmentally friendly solution, reducing pollution from automobile and airplane travel. And best of all, the cost associated with implementing a VTC system has come down drastically over the last few years. But what exactly is videoconferencing, and how does it work?
This Projector Source Canada article will explain in detail what videoconferencing is, its various components and how a VTC system works, along with the various advantages and disadvantages of using videoconferencing as a means of communication.
Videoconferencing involves the use of a collection of interactive telecommunications technologies which allows people in two or more locations to interact real time via two way audio and video transmissions. Videoconferencing is a similar technology to the standard office conference call, except with a videoconference you can actually see the person you are talking to.
A videoconference is slightly different to a videophone call because it can involve groups of people -- hence the word conferencing, whereas a videophone call usually only involves one person.
Within a business environment a videoconference could be used to set up a meeting between two business people or multiple boardrooms full of many people. Aside from audio and visual data, videoconferences can be employed to share computer files or papers across multiple participants.
Advancements in videoteleconferencing technology
Videoconferencing has recently become a viable option because in the last couple of years the cost of VTC technology has begun to decrease. Cheap videoconferencing set ups in the 1970s transmitted such a poor, grainy image due to inefficient video compression and the limited bandwidth available at the time, that it made VTC very cost ineffective.
Only with the advent of ISDN in the 1980s, which allowed videos to be compressed with a bit rate of 128 kilobits did we see the first signs of videoconferencing becoming a more viable option for the public at large. During the 1990s videoconference software and hardware changed from a technology reserved only for scientific institutes to a system priced much more reasonably, and open for purchase to the public.
The possibility for videoconferencing using an Internet Protocol and the development of efficient video compression software -- plus the free software that incorporated this technology is what has made videoconferencing over the Internet a popular option for today''s business people.
How does videoconferencing work?
The fundamental technology at the heart of videoconferencing is real time digital audio and video compression using a codec. Analog information is recorded by a microphone and camera, and then encoded to a digital signal (a series of ones and zeros), and compressed.
The compressed data is then divided into data packets that are transported over a network (traditionally usually using ISDN, but more recently it is likely to be TCP/IP). The signals are then converted back to analog so that they can be viewed and heard by other users. How the audio and video signals are captured and then sent is fundamental to how videoconferencing functions. Audio and video transmission is achieved through five primary components. These devices are:
A video input
The video input will provide a constant stream of the picture of the location you are broadcasting from. Webcams are now the most common type of video input.
A video output
The video output will display the images that the video input is capturing. This type of component usually takes the form of a computer monitor although a flat panel television or a projector with a projection screen set up can also be used.
An audio input
The audio input will transmit the sound from the room you are broadcasting from, picking and what you and others are saying. A microphone is a typical example of an audio input.
An audio output
The audio output will produce the sound and voices from the other participants of the videoconference. Any form of speaker is suitable for this purpose.
A data transfer
The data transfer will transmit the data captured from the video and audio inputs. Either an Internet connection or a Local Area Network connection will be a sufficient transmission medium for this data.
All these types of technology are now commonplace in many offices due to the recent decrease in price for audiovisual devices.
Dedicated VTC systems
Specific, dedicated videoconferencing equipment can also be purchased from manufacturers such as Polycom, Sony, Tandberg, Radvision Ltd. and LifeSize, which will provide much higher quality images and audio during the videoconferencing session. For example, HD signals are now becoming the standard for videoconferencing set ups, meaning that extremely high quality images are possible. Dedicated VTC systems will also have perks, such as being able to remotely control the camera to focus on different areas of the room.
Problems with videoconferencing
The biggest concern when conducting a videoconference is the compression that the audio and video data receives. A higher compression will allow for a faster transmission, meaning that there is a small chance of lag but consequently the image clarity is greatly reduced. On the other hand, data that has only received minimal compression will look clear but may suffer from occasional lag or a lack of sync between the audio and the video. A compromise between the amount of lag and image quality required is needed to ensure that neither one of these factors spoils the videoconference.
A lesser concern, but still one which should be considered, is that videoconferencing cannot completely replace the experience of a face to face meeting. One issue that has been cited is the lack of eye contact associated with VTC systems. However, where face to face meetings are not possible, such as in overseas videoconferences, a VTC session is far superior to a conference call in communicating the desired message.
Videoconferencing can now be conducted using common computer components such as webcam and computer monitors, thus greatly reducing the potential start-up costs. There is also now a large amount of software available for free that can help coordinate each videoconference component to work as required. This means that the costs of implementing videoconferencing are much lower than they used to be.
As with most types of audiovisual equipment, if you spend a little more you can get a much better quality result. Dedicated VTC systems are recommended for businesses that will be using the videoconferencing facility frequently, or that communicate with existing or potential clients using VTC.
We hope you enjoyed this article by Projector Source Canada. For more information, or to purchase a display and projector for your business or home, visit us online at http://www.projectorsourcecanada.ca
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