Category Archives: VideoConferencing 101

Videoconferencing 101, Chapter 2

 

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Chapter 2:  Videoconferencing Endpoints for Casual Users and Telecommuters

An essential part (actually, THE most essential part) of videoconferencing is the endpoint.   The endpoint is that piece of hardware, or mixture of hardware and software, that you use to make the call.

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Figure 1: Endpoint from Polycom

There are many options available to you.

In this chapter, I will help you understand the breadth of endpoints avaliable to you.

Whether you are a casual user talking with friends, a telecommuter, or the CEO of a super large company, there is an endpoint to suite your particular needs.

Casual User

TelBitConsulting says:  Free videoconferencing is the name of the game for the casual user.

To partake of this exciting technology you will (most probably) need:

  1. A computer and know how to install programs on it
  2. High-speed Internet access (preferrably without a firewall)
  3. To be tech savvy enough to be able to follow (sometimes) multiple  steps on your computer to make a call.
  4. A web cam.

Not as easy as buying, plugging in, and using a telephone, but, entirely within the capabilites of many many people in the year 2009.

Your average GrandMa and GrandPa may need help getting started, but, increasingly people my age (included among us are those who invented these technologies) are now the new GrandMa’s and GrandPa’s…so we can handle this.  🙂

My favorite is still oovoo (I use it daily).  It works on Windows and Mac.  ooVoo in it’s current version allows up to three people to meet for free.  You can record, send a video “email”, etc. More advanced usage will cost a fee.    See my review of ooVoo.

Skype has free videoconferencing that works point-to-point on eithe r Windows, Mac or Linux.  I have signed up for Skype.  I just need to complete some calls for a review.

SightSpeed works on Windows or a Mac and has a free version and, for more features, will charge a fee.  I reviewed an older version of SightSpeed.

Google Video Chat has recently been introduced.  Using your browser you can connect using a web cam.  It works fairly well, but, was designed by folks who are not videoconferencing centric so the call procedure is a bit….steppy. It is only point-to-point.  See my review of Google Video Chat.

The products mentioned above are NOT standards-based.  You will not be able to interconnect with a corporate videoconferencing system nor will you be able to interconnect ooVoo to Skype to SightSpeed.  They only work with each other.

In the old days, I would say that would have been a major problem.  Not anymore…now it is perfectly fine (to me) to download a free app via the Internet, tell your friends or family….and make calls.  If you need to download another app…go for it.  The Internet has made it easy.

There are more free videoconferencing applications, do a Google Search on “free video conferencing” to find some of them.  Comments / suggestions are welcome….just comment on this entry.

Telecommuter (at home or at WiFi Hot Spot)

As a telecommuter, you most probably would want something that is portable (that is, works with a web cam) or a unit that is all-in-one, or a set-top on a monitor or TV.

All these are available to you, and what might also be avialable to you is technical support from your company.  How cool is that?

To work at home you need the same computer, connectivity, firewall, etc.  as the Casual User.  If you have a laptop, and you use it at WiFi Hot Spots, no problem…videoconferencing works great!

Your company may give you a set-top or stand-alone system.  You will just need to find a good spot to place it.

Computer-Based

Polycom PVX has been around for many years now.  It is Windows based (only) and works very well with all the standards-based (ie H.323) systems mentioned in Chapter 1.  See my review of the PVX.

Mirial Softphone is fairly new and it also works very well with the standards-based equipment and endpoints.   In addition it provides HD videoconferencing on your computer (assuming your computer is high powered enought to handle it, and your Internet connection is sufficient).  See my review of Mirial.

Radivison Scopia Desktop is available.  That product allows you to connect, using your browser (IE preferred) to an MCU in order to meet with H.323 systems.  You cannot call an H.323 endpoint like you can with the PVX or Softphone, but, if you company has the needed infrastructure, this is a great solution.  See my review of Radivision Scopia Desktop.

Tandberg Movi is currently in Beta.  With Movi you call into the companies video infrastructure(Tandberg VCS) to meet with H.323 / SIP endpoints that also call in or are called.   You can call an H.323 or SIP endpoint  from the Movi but the call processing goes thru the Tandberg VCS located at your company.

Polycom has the CMA Desktop that was introduced in late 2008.  This is a corporate infrastructure system with a presence based desktop application.  A web cam is needed.  Connecting to a person, or H.323 room or “Telepresence” Room is a simple as clicking.    See this blog entry for more information.

Update:  I recently reviewed VidyoDesktop by Vidyo.  This desktop videoconferencing application, like Movi, Scopia, and CMA, is an infrastructure based  app using your browser.  The video quality is astounding.  H.323 interoperability is achieved via a gateway.

Stand-Alone or Set-Top

Various products provide dedicated videoconferencing capability.

A “stand-alone” system contains the monitor, camera, mics, speakers, and the videoconferencing hardware / software needed to connect to the Internet and make (or recieve) a call.

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Figure 2: Tandberg 150 stand-alone endpoint

A set-top consists of dedicated hardware / software to connect to the Internet (or LAN) but no monitor.  Generally the set-top will sit on a TV or a monitor that the user provides.

Polycom ViewStation was one of hte original set-tops

Figure 3: Polycom ViewStation was one of the original set-tops

To find a set-top or stand-alone that may suit your needs you can go to the Tandberg or Polycom web sites.

Summary

Videoconferencing comes in many flavors to suit many needs.

More applications and services are becoming avialable for the casual user and the telecommuter.  I expect to see, but, I’ve been wrong at least once before, that as the economy crashes…desktop systems will become more  economically attractive than some of the more expensive options.   Also as the world embraces Green Technology the ability to meet without traveling to a room is a powerful concept.

Chapter 3 will take a look at the products targeted for the Corporation including Standard and High Definition Conference Room systems, high end desktop systems, and the “Telepresence” systems you have been hearing so much about lately.

Until then…happy reading.

Videoconferencing 101, Chapter 1

Update:  Chapter 2 has been added. 🙂

 

I will start new series where I will try to make videoconferencing, collaboration, streaming, and related technologies easy to understand for “Everyone”.

Taking advantage of the Blog format, I will be able to add to this entry as new information appears, and make changes as needed (a living document). Hopefully, in a few months I will be able to provide an entire “course” for people to refer to.

For the following information, here is a diagram showing all the pieces.  I will try to use this diagram as the basis of the discussions and examples in the next chapters.  

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Lets get started and see how this works out…let me know!

Basic Terms You Will Need To Know

H.320—is an umbrella standard (meaning it covers video, audio, and signaling standards) developed in the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) that defines how voice and video content is processed and transmitted over an Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) telephone call. This standard was developed in the late 1980’s and first used in videoconferencing equipment in the early 1990’s.

H.320 is still in use but is rapidly falling by the wayside with the emergence of high speed Internet Protocol (IP) connectivity. Truthfully, a 384 kbps IP call is better than ISDN and cheaper.

H.323—is an umbrella standard that defines how voice and video content is processed and transmitted over Internet Protocol (IP) networks. This standard was ratified in late 1996, and, now, in 2008 is widely used and reliable. To use H.323, you need an H.323 client and an IP network.

SIP–Session Initiation Protocol is a signaling protocol for the use of video and audio over IP networks. This protocol appeared several years ago and is widely used in Voice Over IP (VoIP) calls but not so much for video. In fact, when I first learned about SIP, it was expected to overtake H.323 very rapidly. That never happened. We will see what the future holds. SIP controls the registration, call establishment, and take down but uses the same protocols for video and audio transfer as H.323 (we will get into these later).

T.120—defines how data collaboration takes place between two or more end users. This standard defines such data collaboration tasks such as: white-boarding, file transfer, application sharing, etc. Many new Internet based application provide much of the functionality of T.120 but are proprietary.

MCU—a multipoint control unit (MCU) allows three or more endpoints to meet at a central location. MCUs exist for audio-conferencing, H.320 videoconferencing, H.323 videoconferencing, and for all three together. An MCU can be hardware based or software based. In H.323, an MCU is optional.

Figure 1: Polycom MCU          

Gatekeeper—this device allows the registration of H.323 devices and controls the call set-up and take-down of H.323 calls. It also provides a way for H.323 units to easily call each other using either an E.164 (a fancy word for a telephone like) number or H.323 alias.The E.164 number can be a simple multi-digit telephone number(like 3456 or 30987) while the H.323 alias can be a persons email address (like mike@telbitconsulting.com), name, or other alphanumeric designation. In H.323, a gatekeeper is optional.

Gatekepers can be: Software on a Windows or Linux / Unix based server (example: Radvision, Open323), software on a router (example: Cisco), or a dedicated Linux box (example: Tandberg). The system you choose depends on a number of factors including expertise in house, cost, and features / capabilities.

Figure 2: Tandberg Gatekeeper          

Gateway—the gateway allows H.323 and H.320 systems to communicate with each other. One side of the gateway is attached to the IP network while the other side of the gateway connects to ISDN. A person using a cell phone can attend a meeting by calling into a gateway. In H.323, a gateway is optional.

Figure 3: Codian / Tandberg Gateway          

See the video below for an example of H.323 videoconferencing. This call was made from our home using a DSL connection to San Diego, CA. We did not use a gatekeeper in this particular call preferring to call using on the Professor’s IP address (a number assigned to his system by his Internet service provider) of his videoconferencing endpoint.