Video conferencing, in some form, is becoming a part of our everyday lives. We use it at work; we use it at home in the form of Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, etc. As it becomes more prevalent, the average consumer may question why there are so many variations in video and why the pricing varies as well.
The way I look at it, there are three types of video conferencing -
- Free, such as Skype, Google Hangouts, etc.
- “Prosumer,” or those that started as web conferencing and added video later, including WebEx, Adobe Connect, etc.
- Enterprise-grade, like RADVISION, Cisco, Polycom, etc.
The way you and your company are using video will reflect how your organization is perceived and should very much influence which technologies you decided to implement. This decision should be based on a number of factors including:
- How important is the quality of video?
- How many participants are usually involved in your video interactions?
- What other features/functions are important (e.g. content-sharing, HD communications, etc.)?
- Do you use video to conduct important meetings/transactions?
- Will you need to access your video interactions at a later date?
Video solutions like Skype are sufficient for casual, one-on-one communications – when you want the grandparents to see your kids, for example. But Skype is not an enterprise-grade solution. There are management issues, quality issues, limitations on the number of participants, security concerns, etc. So when you’re looking to conduct business via video, Skype is probably not your best option.
“Prosumer” solutions like Adobe Connect and WebEx are those that originally started as web conferencing tools, meaning they integrate voice (although not always over IP) with content-sharing. These solutions have recently introduced video as an add-on to their services. While presenters and others may be visible via a video stream, the human visual component is not essential in these types of solutions. They are more about active speakers and passive participants and less about interactive/collaborative communications.
Finally, there are enterprise-grade video solutions. Much like other business solutions, an investment is required. Some examples of this include wireless routers for the home that come at a fraction of the price when compared to those used in businesses. The same go for other solutions where durability, security, etc. are important or even business-critical.
But if you’re still left scratching your head looking for insight into why enterprise-grade technologies cost more than consumer and prosumer-focused solutions, here are a few more reasons:
- You have to consider the bill of materials for HD video conferencing and telepresence. The hardware used in video conferencing equipment is high quality and highly reliable. For example, the DSPs used for the encoding and decoding process, the custom hardware that is developed, the pan-tilt-zoom cameras, etc. In fact, enterprise-grade cameras are notoriously expensive – they offer features you don’t see in webcams (e.g., pan-tilt-zoom). While you don’t need this when you’re Skyping with your sister who lives out-of-state, it’s a regularly used feature in the conference room.
- Additionally, a customized solution is critical in order to ensure availability, reliability, scalability, flexibility and all the other “abilities.” Customizing a do-it-yourself video solution isn’t easy. There’s a lot involved and much to consider when setting up the system, connecting the different peripherals, finding a good echo-cancellation solution for the room you set it up in, adding remote controls, etc. AV integrators exist because it’s not an easy thing to do yourself. Personally, I can compare it to housing projects. I’m far from handy in the house – when I want something important done and can’t afford to compromise quality, I call in the experts.
- There’s the supply chain to consider as well. There are several companies between equipment manufacturer and the end customer – all of whom ultimately have to consider the bottom line. The good news is that along the way, each layer adds value in some form either through customizing a solution to the specific needs of a regional customer or by integrating applications, such as enabling integration with peripherals for telemedicine, connecting to the automation of the room system as well as providing installation services.
At the end of the day, it’s up to each decision-maker to select the video solution that best suits their professional life. However, if quality (e.g., HD audio, video and content delivery, security, etc.) matters, if you’re looking to connect with many people at one time and if visual communications is an important part of your company’s work flow and success, I guarantee the investment in enterprise-grade solutions is well worth the price.
What do you think? Have you tried consumer-based video applications in your business? I’d love to hear about your experiences.