Next Best Thing

Video online collaboration is becoming commonplace despite any real or perceived challenges, and as costs come down. "The process of capturing and sending high-quality video, voice and data information to geographically dispersed sites requires a relatively high-level of bandwidth, and more of an initial investment on the part of companies," said Marlene Williamson, a vice president at Polycom, a video conferencing products and services provider. "However, significant advancements in the quality, usability and accessibility of video communications is driving wider adoption. Combined with the decreasing costs for equipment and high availability of business-quality bandwidth, there's no doubt that video communications will become a ubiquitous business communication tool in the near future. It combines all of the conferencing elements (voice, video, data) giving users the most effective tools for collaboration," added Williamson.

One of the most popular systems is the set top video conferencing appliance like this VuStation 128 from Polycom.
One of the most popular systems is the set top video conferencing appliance like this VuStation 128 from Polycom.
When it's time to choose equipment, normal selection procedures apply. One must consider whether a static camera fits the bill, or maybe the optional use of robotics would be more appropriate. These capabilities, provided by companies like Telemetrics, are able to pan, tilt and zoom by remote or pre-programmed control. "It's important that users select equipment designed for professional applications and the rigors of frequent use," said Anthony Cuomo, Vice President of Telemetrics, Inc. a tele-robotics manufacturer. "Performance is also a significant issue since it will dictate the level of video and audio quality. With camera robotics for video conferencing, it's essential that the systems provide smooth and very quiet operation as not to interfere with the teleconference itself. Noise and unstable images are not acceptable on a professional level," Cuomo said. So as the conferencing technology matures new capabilities like robotics are taking it a step further.

The users of video conferencing technology are as varied as any other. One of the most popular uses of video conferencing is for distance learning in education. The University of California-Davis is one example. The school recently used the technology when it Webcast an important seminar on small pox vaccinations from the UC Davis Medical Center to physicians, nurses and other health care professionals around the world. Utilizing a single VBrick VBXcast unit, UC Davis streamed an entire 2 hour seminar intended to show medical personnel the signs and symptoms of smallpox and risks associated with vaccination. The content was accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, which dramatically increasing the reach and effectiveness of the seminar. "VBXcast has great potential in distance learning applications and in distributing public television," said Sherman George, University of California Television (UCTV) Technical Director. "We can broadcast live events like classes, seminars or theater productions from the University to other schools over our statewide backbone network, using much less bandwidth while preserving video quality."

The examples are not limited to academia, either. A typical example of how video conferencing can help a business is Southfield, Michigan based Barton Malow Corporation. The company has more than 1,500 employees and last year generated revenues in excess of $1.2 billion, making it one of the most successful construction companies in the United States. Realizing that the core of the construction, architecture and engineering businesses is in the content (documents, blueprints. pictures, etc.), Chief Information Officer Phil Go knew that a video conferencing solution that offered traditional "talking head"-only capabilities would not be the best fit for his company. Go realized that graphics required the most attention, while the face-to-face interaction was still an important component. This, combined with his colleagues' desire to limit business travel, be more productive and competitive, drove Barton Malow's decision to deploy several more Polycom iPower systems. iPower, a core product in the Polycom Office line of integrated voice, video, data and Web collaboration products leverages the power of the PC, allowing users in different locations to share and actually work on applications and documents in real time during a video call. The iPower family represents a unique category of integrated collaboration systems -- combining video conferencing, the power of the PC, and access to the Internet to deliver intuitive, media-rich remote communications.