Tune In to Low-Cost Video Conferencing - Page 2

By Gerry Blackwell | Posted August 25, 2009

Choose a Provider

Which Web-based solution will work best for you? It depends in part on the capabilities you need most: Web conferencing – the ability to share documents and computer screens and make online presentations – or pure video conferencing.

Most of the solutions we’ve mentioned offer both, but tend to be stronger in one or the other. Avistar and OoVoo both focus mainly on video conferencing, but do allow meeting organizers to show documents or slide shows to participants during a conference.

Services such as WebEx offer more sophisticated features. Meeting conveners can temporarily hand control to another participant, for example. Participants can annotate and mark up documents onscreen in real time.

“Typically, if a customer decides it’s Web conferencing that is more important for them, they go with a WebEx. If they believe video conferencing is more important, they choose Avistar.” said Epstein. “They [WebEx] offer video but it’s very primitive. We offer Web conferencing, but it’s very primitive.”

Quality Versus Price

Both Avistar and OoVoo claim their main advantage over Web conferencing competitors is superior video, delivered by proprietary systems that ensure the best possible quality for the type of connection and end point.

But even if they do an equally good job of video processing, free and low-cost services that work over the public Internet, such as ooVoo, will inevitably deliver less consistent quality than services, like Avistar’s. Those services work over a dedicated Internet connection to a managed IP network — i.e., no sharing resources — and can afford to assign more hardware and software resources to each call at its data centers.

“For clients who can’t afford more than $10 a month, OoVoo is a viable option,” Epstein conceded. “But typically, if you pay for video, you expect fluid [motion] and good resolution.” Video quality with OoVoo, he claimed, is less consistent and degrades further as you add more participants. (OoVoo supports up to six on a conference.)

The Experience

We were not able to test the Avistar service, but we did use OoVoo to interview Schwartz. It’s easy to set up and use, it works a lot like Skype, and the video quality is impressive. But one test call doesn’t tell the whole story. If you’re considering a service such as ooVoo, take advantage of the free trial offers and give the service a vigorous workout before committing to a subscription.

In our test, over fast Internet connections at both ends and using powerful laptops, motion was smooth most of the time, with good synchronization between video and audio. A “hi-resolution” mode delivers clearer, sharper images, but it also uses more CPU cycles and network bandwidth.

We experienced some delay, but not enough to make conversation awkward – although it would have been more problematic in a less-structured conversation in which participants were more likely to talk over each other.

Most of the time there were only two participants, but at one point Schwartz added two others. At that point, the video windows shrank to fit on the screen – from about 4 x 3.5 inches on my 13-inch laptop screen during the one-on-one conversation – and the video did degrade a little. It was slightly jerkier and less precisely synchronized, but it was still acceptable.

Bottom Line

Online video conferencing – even with fairly inexpensive services – works. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough to add a valuable dimension to online meetings. You won’t need video on every call, but in any meeting where body language and facial expression might give valuable clues to meaning and attitude, especially in first-time encounters, it’s at the very least a nice to have.

Gerry Blackwell is a freelance technology writer based in London, Canada. Read his blog, AfterByte

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