05 Nov Video Conferencing for the Masses
Very quietly, the world of video conferencing took huge strides last week. In fact, the technology has moved remarkably close to being the stuff mere mortals might use in everyday communications.
What’s driving the transition of video conferencing from the province of executive board rooms to the stuff of ordinary communications? Three factors: the widespread adoption of broadband, always-on connectivity; the availability of low-cost, high-quality desktop video cameras; and the emergence of new video conference software and services.
Enough has been said of the enabling power of broadband, but suffice to add that the market penetration of DSL, cable, and satellite networks drives the assumption that any serious small- or home-based business will have access to a high-speed network.
On the camera front, last week’s introduction by Logitech of its sleek QuickCam Orbit sets a new – and affordable – benchmark in PC-based cameras. Building on the face tracking and auto-zoom functions in its current webcam line, Logitech includes mechanical pan and tilt to this camera, allowing it to automatically maneuver and track the scene. The camera captures up to 1.3-megapixel still images and true 640 by 480 video. In a blinding flash of the obvious, the product’s designers set the camera orb on a 9-inch stand so that when it sits beside your monitor, it is at near eye level to most folks. Additionally, the camera has a build-in microphone for complete audio/video capture.
What’s the big deal about a better camera? The $129.95 camera delivers a professional quality to a video conference. No more fumbling to adjust a camera. No tether to a microphone headset. No lossy video artifacts. Just crisp, clean video that shifts the focus to communications rather than the communications technology.
The new Logitech camera could find no better match than a new Web video conference service from SightSpeed, based in Berkeley, California. Based on technology developed at Cornell University, SightSpeed provides real-time, full-motion video that has none of the irritating artifacts that mar most consumer-market Internet video systems. Owing to exceptional data compression technology, the IP-delivered video comes across at 30 frames per second and is perfectly synched with telephone-based audio.
As good as the video delivery is, the overall service offering is outstanding. To initiate a video, you need to register and download software at SightSpeed. Then, you simply send a URL to the person you want to call. The recipient clicks on the link, a plugin loads in the background, and you’re in video conference together. It couldn’t be easier.
To give you a sense of just how good the quality of their service is, SightSpeed powers the online community ClubDeaf.com. The video component of this site for deaf and hearing impaired is so good that members are able to read lips and sign language without suffering the video glitches that are common via other online video systems.
You can take a test drive at
High-quality video conferencing has a tremendous impact on the quality of communications. I participate in a dozen conference calls each week, and I know how easy it is to become distracted by “multitasking.” It’s just too easy to half listen to a disembodied voice while checking email, paging ahead in the presentation, and doing a Google search on your caller. Put a high-quality video image in your browser, and your attention shifts fully back to the conversation.
It wasn’t long ago that quality video conferencing was a major financial investment and a firm commitment of IT resources to get each video conference off the ground. With the introduction of an excellent low-cost video camera and new video conference software and services during the last few weeks of October, video conferencing has come to the masses. My prediction: Within a year, the majority of my conference calls will be video conference calls.
Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld’s DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMOletter and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Shipley, has covered the personal technology business since 1984 and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. Shipley has worked as a writer and editor for variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine and Working Woman. She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the #1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers for two years in a row. To subscribe to DEMOletter please visit: http://www.idgexecforums.com/demoletter/index.html.
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