Hints and Tips

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing refers to the ability to exchange video and audio data between two or more locations. Ideally it should be possible to do this in high-definition video and high-quality audio, with no jerkiness in movement of the image and perfect synchronisation between the audio and video.

There are two common methods of implementing video conferencing; either by using a hardware codec (coder - decoder) or a software codec.

Video conferencing with a software codec

The best known example of this approach is Skype, using a webcam, microphone and speakers (built-in to most laptops, so no cost). If you are using a desktop computer the initial outlay may be anywhere between $50 and $2,000 per location, depending on the quality of equipment purchased and whether or not large display screens are included. 

With a free Skype account it is possible to video conference with one other similarly equipped person. For a few dollars a month the premium version of Skype permits video conferencing between people at multiple locations. The codec (the smarts that compress the video and audio and make best use of available bandwidth) are built into the Skype software. This approach is sometimes referred to as managed video conferencing.

There are many other suppliers of managed video conferencing services, including GoToMeeting (Citrix), Webex (Cisco) and Lync (Microsoft - which also owns Skype). They offer a wider range of facilities than Skype, and charge more for their services, either on a rate per month / per user, a rate per minute or some combination of the two. 

Video conferencing with a hardware codec

This approach requires the purchase of a hardware codec - a box from a supplier such as Polycom. Hardware codecs are supplied with cameras, microphones, speakers - and usually one or two large display screens. The initial cost is likely to be in the region of $10,000 per location plus annual maintenance fees, but there are no ongoing costs for calls. 

The big question is this: will the faster line speeds of the NBN make it possible to cobble together a high-quality, 'home-grown' solution to video conferencing based on software codecs such as Skype - or is it still necessary to pay the big bucks for traditional solutions based on hardware codecs?

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