Video conferencing and Web conferencing options for small businesses include:
WebEx ($39-$49/month per person) provides Web conferencing that includes on-demand, online meetings combining video conferencing, IM and shared desktops and applications. The WebEx service works within your Web browser; theres no need to install an application.
Packet8 Virtual Office ($25/month and up), a VoIP service for small businesses, recently added video conferencing via the Packet8 Virtual Office Tango Video Terminal Adapter (VTA). The device uses a built-in, five-inch color screen and a 180-degree rotating camera to capture video. Among the systems features: You can initiate video conferences by clicking to dial a contact in Microsoft Outlook. The Tango VTA costs $100-$150. Video conferencing is a free add-on for subscribers of Packet8 Virtual Office VoIP service plans.
Telepresence: The term used for ultra-expensive video conferencing systems from Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and others. Telepresence systems are aimed at large enterprises. Participants in one telepresence room interact with participants in a remote telepresence conference room. The remote participants are represented in high-definition, life-like size.
Each participant in a video conference must have a Webcam attached to, or built into, his or her computer. Laptops from Apple, Asus, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Sony and others feature built-in Webcams. Webcams connect to your computer via USB and are available from Logitech, Microsoft, and Creative Labs for $125 or less.
The better low-cost Webcams today, such as Logitech's QuickCam Pro 9000 ($99), offer 2-megapixel image sensors. Webcams built into consumer laptops sometimes deliver lower-quality, 0.3-megapixel resolution.
Usually, Webcams feature a built-in microphone. For the best audio quality, consider using a separate microphone connected to your computer. A headset with a microphone you can place close to your mouth might help people hear you more clearly.
The more bandwidth on your network, and the more horsepower your computer has, the better your video conferencing experience should be. For example, some Logitech Webcams when combined with Skype 3.6 promise "high-quality" video chats. But to experience it, each person participating in the chat must have a PC with a dual-core processor.
Is Security a Concern?
Any online activity comes with security risks and video conferencing is no exception. For example, last year Yahoo had to tweak its Messenger IM software because hackers were fooling people into accepting malicious software disguised as video chat invitations. Overall, though, such threats have been rare.
Affordable high-definition video conferencing for consumers is on its way, and its likely such services will work their way up into the business realm. Example: OoVoo is teaming with Quanta Computer to bring video conferencing to people with HDTVs. The service is likely to be available later this year at consumer-friendly prices.
James A. Martin has years of experience covering technology, and he's also the author of Traveler 2.0, a blog that provides technology news and views for travelers.
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