The Basics of Video Conferencing

Modern business operations all share the same rapidly depleting commodity: Time. When time is leveraged, productivity and output invariably increases within a business organization. Technology continues to provide workers and businesses with new tools to help leakage time. Video conferencing could prove to be one of the most important time leveraging business tools of the 21st century.

Once a luxury for only the largest companies, video conferencing is beginning to change the landscape of how businesses communicate with both employees and clients. In its simplest form, video conferencing allows two individuals to be thousands of miles apart yet still effectively communicate as if they were in the same room. Systems in use today can now connect multiple parties across multiple continents – in real time with excellent and high quality video and audio.

The Origins of Video Conferencing

Video conferencing capacities originated in the 1970s. Similar to every other technology in use today, video conferencing has changed dramatically since first being developed. Early proponents of video conferencing technology had no standards or protocols to rely on. This fact made a teleconference via video an expensive proposition – one that only huge companies and government agencies could afford. In a time where cell phones were still a decade away for most consumers and businesses, video teleconferences were few and far between.

Today, affordable networks and systems are widely available across the globe. Interoperability of video teleconferencing systems is essentially guaranteed now that standards and protocols have been clearly established.

Specific Standards and Protocols for Video Conferencing

To make any technology usable for the masses, standards and protocols are required to insure systems, software and hardware are ubiquitous across the board.

To help guarantee video teleconferencing compatibility between manufacturers, the International Telecommunications Union developed and defined a series of video conferencing standards. In place since the mid-1990s, current standards are defined in terms of H.3xx.

H.3xx are "umbrella" recommendations for video conferencing. They include the protocols for coding video / audio, multiplexing, signaling, and control.

The core H.3xx recommendations are as follows:

H.320 – Narrow-band video conferencing over circuit-switched networks (N-ISDN, SW56, dedicated networks) H.321 – Narrow-band video conferencing over ATM and B-ISDN H.323 – Narrow-band video conferencing over non -Guaranteed quality-of-service packet networks (LAN, Internet, etc.) H.324 – Very narrow-band video conferencing over the general (dial-up) telephone network H.310 – Wide-band (MPEG-2) video conferencing over ATM and B-ISDN H.323 is a standard for audio, video, and data communication over IP-based (Internet Protocol) networks.

All major video conferencing manufacturers produce ITU compliant equipment. When choosing video conference equipment, be sure that you select a system that does not offer only proprietary methods of operation.

How Video Conferencing Works

The success of a video teleconference depends entirely on the equipment and network capabilities behind that equipment.

Since real-time video contains a tremendous amount of data, it is imperative that the system being used can handle a high amount of bandwidth at any given time. Fortunately, video conferencing systems are designed to "sample" and "compress" a certain portion of data (such as the unchanging "background 'of the room) to help conserve bandwidth. "A video codec is the device or software that enables video compression and or decompression for digital video.

It is the job of the codec to "sample" data at specific time intervals (fractions of a second) and then compress this data so that it can be delivered across the network. The codec on the receiving end then reassembles audio and video for transmission onto a television or computer screen. To conserve bandwidth, the codec focuses on the most important data – ie moving objects such as people, props, etc. Moving objects take a reasonable amount of processing power, so the better the codec, the higher quality your video conference will appear.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Choosing a Video Conferencing Solution

A wide variety of video conferencing systems are available in the marketplace. Before purchasing equipment or services from vendors, consider the following as a starting point to narrow down the requirements of a system that fits with your business needs:

How will you be using video conferencing? A simple video conference between employees in the same town, building or area will require a more basic solution than video conferencing multiple parties across the vast distances. Determine the maximum video conference scenario you will be utilizing to narrow down bandwidth and equipment requirements.

How large is the meeting room where you plan to conduct video conferences? Camera capacities will depend on the size of the room and number of people involved. Conducting a video conference in a small auditorium with dozens of participants will require a quite different solution than 1-2 individuals transmitting from a small office.

On what type of network will your video conference be hosted? The network you choose to host your videoconference will play a key role in overall reliability and performance. Most video conferencing systems sold today include an IP interface with ISDN as an option. Determine the capabilities of your network before deciding on any one specific video conferencing solution.

The Future of Video Conferencing

Increasing productivity while reducing costs will always be an important part of any business. The popularity of video conferencing will unduly increase in the coming years. Virtually all industries will eventually utilize video conferencing in some form to help bring people together – at least less cost than physical travel for face-to-face meetings. As more corporations, health care providers and governments experience the value in video conferencing as a time and money-saving tool, the technology will become more necessity than luxury. The age of the video conference has just begun!