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Affordable and Usable Video Conferencing? 170

Posted by timothy
from the site-seeing-tour dept.
Sabalon writes "I work at a state university with remote sites, minimal space, and all the other usual bits. We used to have some dedicated-circuit video conferencing tools but those have fallen into disuse. The administration is now interested in being able to stream a class from site to site, or at least have a student at one site have visual interaction with a person at another site. My thought is that if Skype, uStream and others can do live video, there has to be some things out there that don't cost a fortune but work effectively. Key things would be the ability to use commodity web cams as a source, viewable on a PC (preferably all the main OSes) and the ability to add in other devices (say H.323 encoders) or desktop/application sharing. Are there decent products and solutions out there for us mere mortals?"
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Affordable and Usable Video Conferencing?

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  • Here in Alaska.

    We use Polycom for room to room communications, skype and gchat for person to person.

    • Try dimdim? (Score:2, Informative)

      by CoffeePlease (596791)
      We used it the other day and were very happy with it - it's free to try for small groups.
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        We used it the other day and were very happy with it - it's free to try for small groups.

        Yes Dimdim is great - free for 20 people and super easy to use. Nothing otehr than Flash and Mac, Windows or Linux browser required for students to see your screen.

    • Re:We do this... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by cayenne8 (626475) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:18PM (#30852734) Homepage Journal
      After reading the article...why not just use Skype or Ustream as they mentioned?
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        After reading the article...why not just use Skype or Ustream as they mentioned?

        Because they only support 1 on 1 video chat, not video conferencing.

        • by Ihmhi (1206036)

          Have four Skype windows on one monitor. Record the monitor with a webcam. BAM videoconferencing.

      • Re:We do this... (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:59PM (#30853412)

        Being an audiovisual engineer at a large University in the US, I can tell you that Skype DOES NOT work well for group videoconferencing. Skype was designed to be used with a microphone and headset, and for that purpose it works great. When you try to blast audio through a room with enough microphone pickup to get everyone in the room, feedback is your enemy. In order to do videoconferencing *right*, you'd need a dedicated videoconferencing codec such as a Tandberg C60 or other device that has built in audio-negating capabilities. While costly, they do things marvelously well.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by wooferhound (546132)
          Skype does have settings to control the audio just like a speakerphone. My wife uses skype to call from the US to Russia and the she turns up the incoming audio rather loudly and the microphone is 2 feet away from her and it works wonderfully without a headset.
          • by jeff4747 (256583)

            I suspect she's using a fairly directional microphone. In which case, it works nicely in her set-up simply because it's not going to pick up much from the speakers.

            But in the scenario in TFA, directional mics aren't gonna work, and feedback will be a problem.

        • by cayenne8 (626475)
          Hmm....is CUSeeMe still out there?

          I seem to recall it would do ok with multiple people at the same time?

          • The 'Adult' setting I think would require a different 'exposure' setting, and I might hold off on calling that sort of activity videoconferencing. Well, maybe when the spouse is around...

      • by MBGMorden (803437)

        That's what I'm trying to figure out. Skype works pretty darned good for this sort of thing, and is multi-platform. I use it pretty often as my sister and 1.5 yr old niece recently moved 12 hours away. She uses the integrated webcam in her Macbook. On my laptop I use the integrated webcam and on my desktop I have a $20 Logitech unit. Works great for talking back and forth and being able to see my niece kiss the screen when the video pops up is way better than getting still baby pictures :).

        Truthfully asi

      • by socsoc (1116769)
        what article? there's only a summary which is the entire Ask Slashdot.
    • Re:We do this... (Score:4, Informative)

      by FooAtWFU (699187) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:33PM (#30852996) Homepage
      My team just bought an iMac with a nice display and put it on one conference room, while the guy on the other end has a little MacBook. You can do 2 or 3-way videoconferences with iChat over Jabber.
    • Re:We do this... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ruie (30480) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:48PM (#30853264) Homepage
      I recommend EVO [caltech.edu]
    • by icebike (68054)

      TFA mentions skype and uStream, and then inexplicably launches off on some quest for something else..

      Ustream viewers need only a web browser.

      Skype views can chat and video call using the free skype application.

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

      This is a similar setup as used at the University of Chicago. They put in some proprietary junk some time back and nobody used it. Naturally, people figured out their own solutions. Then a group of kooks over at academic computing got wise and put together a package with Polycom, etc. Their big hardware vendor didn't like it, preferring to keep their fat contract, but that's an institution where if you don't give the faculty, staff and students something that works, they'll figure out their own solution

    • Lifesize (Score:3, Informative)

      by xQx (5744)
      I hated video conferencing for years because of tragic experiences with crap software on PC's that give you a fantastic postage-stamp sized video at 15fps over a 512/512k connection...

      Then we were sold a Lifesize video conferencing solution at about $5,000usd per endpoint, which gave 720p room to room comms at 1mb/1mb (or PAL at 512/512k)

      We did extensive testing of software solutions to try to find cheap options for people on the road, and found they were all cheap and nasty.

      Lifesize now have a product call
    • by Larryish (1215510)

      Uh... Netmeeting?

      *ducks*

  • by nemesisrocks (1464705) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:14PM (#30852654) Homepage

    Wait... You mean Cisco Telepresence doesn't fall in the category of "affordable and usable"?

    Damn. All those certifications (read: hours of watching "24") have gone to waste...

  • Cisco WebEx seems to fit the bill, although I'm not sure if it'll run on *nix.
  • ePOP (Score:5, Informative)

    by MikeDataLink (536925) <mike.murraynet@net> on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:16PM (#30852696) Homepage Journal
    I work for a large retail operation. We use a product called ePop http://www.nefsis.com/ [nefsis.com] It's affordable and does the job. Or as I like to say... it's GOOD ENOUGH. ;-)
    • by wk633 (442820)

      What he said. I work remotely for a large University, and it works very well for us. No hassles. Multi-user. Easy to use. App/desktop sharing. Remote control. Not free, but pretty affordable. Did I mention easy to use?

    • Thanks, Cindy Lauper

  • by Sir_Dill (218371) <.moc.aluhcaz. .ta. .todhsals.> on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:18PM (#30852722) Homepage
    Oovoo works really well but I did have some of their banners set off my AV due to drive by flash exploits in the banners they use.

    Since then I have been hesitant to try it again but it did work very well.

  • Solutions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:19PM (#30852762)

    Are there decent products and solutions out there for us mere mortals?

    Just about anything will work -- unless your internet service provider sucks. Then you're kinda doomed. So do your homework on what low-latency providers are available or get a leased line between the sites.

  • Dim Dim (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ya really (1257084) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:22PM (#30852832)
    I've been recently setting up video streaming for a client and found that dim dim [dimdim.com] is free for up to 20 people (using their closed source software) and unlimited if you feel like building it yourself with the opensource version. It's not bad either, I can't complain for the price :)
  • There is also Moodle (http://moodle.org/), ff you're willing to do a bunch of setup yourselves
  • by TheSunborn (68004) <tiller@d[ ]i.au.dk ['aim' in gap]> on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:29PM (#30852932)

    Is there any specific reason not just to use skype to send the video?

    You can then upload the video to YouTube afterwards.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Malc (1751)

      It only video conferences between two parties. The video turns off for group calls.

    • by Malc (1751)

      BTW - we use Palbee for video + Skype for audio. But then we're just individuals spread around the world, and not a rooms full of people.

  • At the university where I work, we got a $100,000 grant from the USDA to upgrade our aging V-tel units to Tandberg systems a few years ago. If you want this done right, you'll need the right equipment, it's just that the equipment costs an arm and a leg and getting free money from the government helps. Also, perhaps going through a videoconferencing underdog like LifeSize could help get you going. I hear LifeSize is trying to get their foot in the door by providing sweet deals that undercut the likes of

    • by karnal (22275)

      Side note - I heard that Cisco either recently bought or was strongly considering buying Tandberg. In that case, I have to wonder what will happen to Tandberg - will it be streamlined into Cisco Telepresence, or will Tandberg remain a "Brand" of Cisco (aka linksys) while having the Cisco stamp on it?

  • As mentioned already, polycom does make a good system for video conferences. For classroom use it might be limited. Depends on the size of the class. 30+ people and it might fall short. The smaller the number the better. Meeting size groups it is a great system. For larger groups, the camera is going to have to be set to track the speaker which might lead to some interesting camera views on the other side. Or the camera is set to get the whole group which means not everyone is seen clearly. Plus is an avera

    • by nxtw (866177)

      Polycom's HDX systems (since 2007) separate the codec (rackmount or tabletop unit with camera/mic inputs and display/speaker outputs and the network connection) from the cameras and microphones. It should be possible to create a system suitable for any room size, as long as there's a good location for the camera.

      Polycom's own camera has optical zoom, rotation, etc. and I think they even support 1080p30 and 720p60. The codecs support input via DVI, VGA, component, etc.

  • by RobertM1968 (951074) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:34PM (#30853016) Homepage Journal

    Google offers videoconferencing, and I believe it is free (sans the cost of the cheap USB camera you will have to buy).

    Check out this article, then check out the links for it on Google's site...
    Google to offer Video Conferencing [blogspot.com]

  • One thing to consider is that if you want to stream a class from a regular webcam you will not be able to see what is written on the board due to the low resolution.

    Also, the teacher will walk out of view of the camera as they write on the board.

    My school had motion tracking cameras. It looked like a normal video camera on a tripod, with a motor attached. The teacher would wear some kind of tracking device on their belt, and the camera would automatically follow them.

    You would also want to consid
  • by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:36PM (#30853044) Homepage Journal

    The administration is now interested in being able to stream a class from site to site [. . .] Key things would be the ability to use commodity web cams as a source

    You're not going to be able to usably capture a classroom lecture with webcam and associated microphone.

    -Peter

    • by markhahn (122033)

      I think you actually mean "need something better than the webcam's microphone". there's no problem capturing lectures with good webcams, since they provide plenty of sensitivity, resolution, refresh rate. you'll want to put a lapel mic on the speaker, that's all.

    • by Khyber (864651)

      "You're not going to be able to usably capture a classroom lecture with webcam and associated microphone."

      Not true. My Microsoft Lifecam VX-3000 can pick me up from my balcony outside, that's a good fifty feet away from its location.

  • Have you looked at ViVu (http://vivu.tv) they seem to provide a decent functinality for the kind of application you are looking for.
  • Mbone & VIC (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JynxMe (1652545) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:39PM (#30853092)
    A few years back, my multi-site development group set up a web cam on just a regular PC running windows. Then we just set up Mbone [wikipedia.org] and VIC [google.com] to run the actual conferencing part. It worked really well and supported as many clients as we needed it to. I'm not sure if it's still around or under any development - but you can't beat the price ($0). And they have clients for most OSes.
    • by markhahn (122033)

      mbone+vic (+rat) pretty much describes AccessGrid. AG works, scales, but is not great and definitely not convenient the way a web client with java or flash would be.

      • by dkf (304284)

        mbone+vic (+rat) pretty much describes AccessGrid. AG works, scales, but is not great and definitely not convenient the way a web client with java or flash would be.

        At work, we've developed a portalized version of AccessGrid that is effectively install-free (it does something complex with delivery of applications via JWS) and which works through most normal firewall configurations and doesn't require router upgrades or clients installing complex security. It's pretty neat, though not quite ready for heavy hammering on by the whole world so I'll not give out the URL here. And no amount of clever coding will get around the fact that video conferencing requires plenty of

  • Have a look at http://www.zoiper.com/ [zoiper.com] (disclaimer, i work for them). We make multiplatform softphones with video support (currently only video on mac and windows, we will implement it in our solaris and linux versions later). In combination with an opensource proxy (opensips, kamailo) or pbx (asterisk freeswitch, yate), you can build a very nice conferencing solution, maybe some of your students will even be able to set it up for you. If the university you are working for is non profit, send us an email an
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I work at a state university with remote sites, minimal space, and all the other usual bits.

    You already have everything you need. Use the bits to drill a hole into the ground,
    then drill horizontally from there to the other locations and use a set of simple
    lenses and periscope-style mirrors for video conferencing.

    This works very well for us, we even implemented a network stack on top of
    the video conferencing system. As a matter of fact, I posted this by dictating it
    to my TOOL (Transport Overlaying Operational Linker) while watching him type it.

    Ok, Jeff, just hit submit now and go take a dump, I won

    • Use the bits to drill a hole into the ground, then drill horizontally from there to the other locations

      You'll need a hole saw [slashdot.org] if you want the best resolution.

      Aw, shit. Was I just trolled?!

  • by Rantastic (583764) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:44PM (#30853180) Journal

    My thought is that if Skype, uStream and others can do live video, there has to be some things out there that don't cost a fortune but work effectively. Key things would be the ability to use commodity web cams as a source, viewable on a PC (preferably all the main OSes) and the ability to add in other devices (say H.323 encoders) or desktop/application sharing. Are there decent products and solutions out there for us mere mortals?

    H.323 is a signaling protocol, similar to SIP. I have no idea what you mean by an H.323 encoder. I am also a bit lost by the phrase "us mortals." Are you looking for a solution that the infamous Joe Sixpack can set up? Since you have not mentioned in what capacity you work at the "state university" I must conclude that it is in a non-technical role. Why not leave the project to those with the technical qualifications (not to mentioned google skills) to handle it.

  • If I'm understanding the original poster correctly, one of the things he wants to do is have mulitple viewers of a single transmitter stream (possibly with some kind of moderated talk-back capability, too).

    I'm far from an expert in this area (I haven't worked on a videoconferencing system selection in nearly a decade, and don't really use video chat myself - heck, I don't even *have* a skype account), but it seems like the OP needs some kind of point-to-multipoint capability.

    Do any of the suggested solution

  • Videoconferencing (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheSync (5291) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:58PM (#30853402) Journal

    Cisco Telepresence is the best - also least affordable in terms of required bandwidth and setting up a special room, but it is awesome!

    For a small number of sites, you might try SightSpeed [sightspeed.com], they can do 9-way conferencing. I like its quality for a PC-based system.

    Google Videochat is horrible quality, but has the unique quality of being able to make it through almost any firewall when you use HTTPS access to your Gmail.

    Mac iChat is good as well.

  • by creimer (824291) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:00PM (#30853430) Homepage
    Set up a water cooler inside an empty conference and the workers will gravitate there for a meeting. Of course, some of the biggest liars will try to dominate the water cooler. The plunger from the restroom will take care of that problem.
  • You should take a look at EVO [caltech.edu]. It was developed by CalTech for use in the high-energy physics projects at CERN. It is a Java application, no installation required, but works surprisingly well even with consumer webcams in mac and linux. You can use it for free by just registering and organizing a meeting in the 'universe' group, or you can request that your own organization is added (and still use it for free). It has all necessary features: multiple video streams, collaborative white board, recording
  • by godrik (1287354)

    ekiga works wonderfully for me and is FLOSS

  • My company offers a product called VCS (http://elluminate.com/products/vcs/index.jsp) - it's fairly inexpensive and does a good job for reasonable sized video conferences. It's being used by Harvard Business School and some other larger institutions.
  • I have yet to see anything easier to use for video conferencing than TinyChat. Just use Firefox or Chrome with Ad Block and you'll have a nice clean interface (or pay for a subscription - it's still pretty cheap).

  • IOCOM just released a new version of Visimeet (based on Access Grid, developed by Argonne National Laboratories) with free and premium options and with individual and room solutions. My group started using the free version, and we don't have to pay for point-to-point users. We connect dozens of students, and instructors can see all of them at the same time. The best part is that we only pay for a subscription for the instructors. The students are free.
  • Adobe Acrobat Connect is an excellent tool that seemlessly combines what you seem to be asking for, including the ability to record sessions for later viewing. There's a free trial, but the full service costs $39/month.

    http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobatconnect/ [adobe.com]
    • by Itninja (937614)
      We also use Connect. But we opted for the licensed version and have a server installed on-site. Great product. All Flash based, works with any USB webcam or mic. The web server is a customized Apache install. We serve about 150 named accounts (with 1000's of 'guest' accounts) on a single server running W2K3 server. Connect also support clustering for licensed installs.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Microsoft Office Communications Server R2 would fit the bill. Federation support so you can collaborate with other edu organizations. Adaptive bit-rate codec that supports from QCIF, VGA all the way to 720p and great wideband audio. Customizable Mac OS and Windows clients including Pidgin support. Built in internal and external multipoint audio and video conference bridge with continuous presence. The best NAT traversal (huge!) and remote access out of all the video conference solutions, no extra router
  • SipX [sipfoundry.org] does that, plus a whole host of other things too.. May be overkill for what you're looking for though.. That's your call to make..
  • My company uses both, depending on our needs. Skype seems to have a lot less system overhead and is multi-platform, but it's really only good for 1-to-1. You can get rid fo the ads in ooVoo by buying a Business account. You just need as many "seats" as you plan to have simultaneous conferences. I believe you also need a Business plan to enable desktop sharing, which may be important. A down-side is if you enable desktop sharing- you lose the video feed from that desktop. It also only supports 6-way conferen
  • I work for an online university, we use web conferencing software from these guys [gilaad.com]. They have easy to use online tools for scheduling classes, and easily joining them from a central location. They also offer integration with Moodle which many universities now use. Their software also integrates with Microsoft's Live Meeting and Cisco's Webex, which have whiteboards, VoIP, desktop and application sharing, viewing multiple webcams, polling, raising hand, and so on.
  • How about Opera unite ( http://unite.opera.com/ [opera.com] ) ? One of the unite application allows you to stream videos and could be suitably extended to do more.
  • I just checked out all the free video conf. I could find, and Skype won hands down. The big feature one was full screen. Other free sw has a small video windows. My company have many expensive systems, including Tandberg, and I don't really think much more of them than skype.

    What I would really like is a video conferencing system that consists of a table sticking out from a wall, and with a mirror image of the room on the far side. Now set up your projector so your video conference just looks like your tabl

  • by rikkitikki (91982)

    You can do video chat on the PS3. And you can chat with multiple people at the same time. I've personally done it with three people. I don't know what the limit is. All you need is a PS3, a compatible webcam (could be a Playstation Eye, PS2 EyeToy, and there's various other webcams that supposedly work), and a network connection and you're done. Oh, sorry, replied too fast...missed the requirement about needing to be viewable on a PC. Well if that's not a strict requirement, then you can think about t

  • While I'm not sure if it's quite what you're looking for, I've actually had some minor success with broadcasting over Justin.TV.

    Last summer one of our intern groups was giving a presentation to an NPO client. Unfortunately, most of the board was out of the country. So, as a last minute solution, I grabbed a web cam, a laptop, and set up in the auditorium. The quality was mediocre at best, but with more time, I'm sure I could have tweaked the lighting and the exposure controls for the webcam to get an eve

  • I'd be interested to see what Skype looks like in portrait mode on some of the forthcoming tablet PCs.

    I keep remembering that videoconferencing scene in Demolition Man, with the conference table surrounded by motorised portrait-mode screens. I think it'd be funny to have conferences where a missing member attended by Skype, and had a personal assistant assigned to wave their screen-camera around in an interested way to point at whoever was talking.

    With a few absentees it'd start to look like Japanese mi

  • If you already use Windows as your desktop and Exchange as your email / messaging systems you should look at Office Communications Server 2007 R2 http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/communicationsserver/default.aspx [microsoft.com]

    - Integrates with outlook
    - has desktop sharing with multi-monitor support
    - you can use it will off the shelf hardware or cheap "certified hardware"
    - You can use it for IM, PC to PC Voip, Video, and even as a full phone system replacement.

  • Has anyone suggested DimDim? http://www.dimdim.com
    It's free for up to 20 people, available for Windows, Linux and Mac.

  • by rsun (653397) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @09:00PM (#30854908) Homepage
    Disclaimer: I work for LifeSize Communications, so I might be biased...

    Anyway, in the dedicated hardware area, you've got HP and Cisco at the high end (100k++++), Polycom and Tandberg (merging with Cisco) in the middle end (10k++) and LifeSize and a host of other smaller players at the low end (<20k). If you want HD (720p30 minimum), you're not really going to find it on PC based implementations, most are limited to 640x480p15 - 30 due to the compute required to encode the stream efficiently. Polycom and Tandberg offer a mix of SD and HD products with the SD products generally being cheaper than the HD ones. Everyone in the "professional" video conferencing space is moving to HD. LifeSize offers products from 2.5k (passport - 720p30 only, point to point only) to about 17k (room 220, 1080p30/720p60, 8 way multipoint, H.323) with a variety of products in between. We pride ourselves on needing the least bandwidth to achieve certain levels of performance (e.g., we'll do 720p30 in 768kbps, 720p60 in 1mbps and 1080p30 in < 2mbps). Polycom and Tandberg offerings are generally 2x the bandwidth at the same resolution/frame rate. Cisco's telepresence stuff needs (I could be wrong here, but I think I'm in the right ball park) something like 18mbps for the 3 screen solution you've seen on 24 and a couple of other shows (that's 6mbps/screen).

    There are plenty of pc clients, but truth be told, they look like a** compared to the (HD) professional ones in my opinion. Of course, I'm starting to realize that HD TV looks like crap too, so it might just be me.
    • In our office we use Polycom to patch in meeting rooms and then laptops running end-user software to bring in the lone warrior. The big problem, of course is jitter, so having right QoS is essential. I can recommend Polycom as good (but not cheap).
    • by pnutjam (523990)
      I hate looking at myself in HD...
  • by pc_goes_hmm (587040) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @09:03PM (#30854924)

    We've had good success with the following at each location:

    - Mac Mini

    - DVI Splitter (active not a simple cable -- bought ours at Fry's)

    - Wacom Intuos (integrated tablet and video monitor -- the smaller model is recommended)

    - DVI Projector (Sharp Electronics WXGA 2500) + screen

    - Polycomm conference phone (new model with the cellphone noise-cancelling)

    It's hard to have a technical conversation without a whiteboard, and while webex/dimdim/vyew/etc. have shared whiteboard apps, trying to draw with a mouse on a pad DOWN THERE while looking UP HERE while discussing your topic is just too danged disruptive (like trying to walk while rubbing your belly and patting your head). Drawing right on the "whiteboard" (screen) with a stylus removes most of the cognitive friction.

    The only tricky bit is that you really need to project the screen if you'll ever have more than one person in the room. An *active* DVI splitter (passive cabling won't work) does the trick, but you have to ensure that the Mac only "sees" the Wacom monitor initially when it sets up it's display modes. Every time we have a power outage, we need to temporarily unplug the projector from the splitter then force the Mac to re-discover its displays (the Wacom needs the Mac to have the display resolution exactly right). It's also necessary to get a decent projector that can sync to the Wacom's resolution (we use the Sharp Electronics WXGA 2500 which has been terrific).

  • by v1 (525388)

    Skype of course is going to be mentioned a lot. They started out as audio only, and their audio quality remains imho unbeatable. Video quality is not nearly as good especially if your internet connection is poor. Tends to drop frames rather than lower quality. Often video stops working entirely and you have to close and reopen the chat. No support for multiconferencing, no compatibility with anything else, client is available for numerous platforms and all work well. Fairly good negotiation through uPNP

  • Just get one copy of CamfrogWeb, or plunk down on a bunch of client licenses ($50 per client, BUT each code can be used on two machines at the same time) and pay $200 for the Camfrog Server.

    It's really simple to use. Might want to password protect your room, though, and NOT list the server on the main Camfrog directory.

  • My university (Illinois Institute of Technology) does this by exporting online classes [iit.edu] to lots of remote sites around Chicagoland. I think they use some more specialized high-end videoconferencing software. I wonder if they'd be willing to share their expertise with you.

  • Skype does all of the above. Desktop / application sharing, cross-platform, and it is free (unless you're calling out to an actual phone number). Oh, and it's cross-platform and works with any video hardware you have drivers for (I used to use it with my DV camcorder before I had a webcam). Is there a reason you cannot or don't want to use Skype for this setup?
  • why? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by neuroxmurf (314717)

    Videoconferencing is, has always been, and will always be a solution in search of a problem. Nobody (who has any sense) has ever said "gee, I wish I could look at a grainy, postage-stamp-sized picture of the person I'm talking on the phone with". Nobody *cares*. Not for meetings, not for classes. Audio is critically important. Shared presentation is critically important. Shared whiteboard is criticall important for some purposes. Video? Video is utterly useless.

    (I've worked with most of the videocon

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jalet (36114)

      Most of what you say I perfectly agree with, in particular audio is the most important. However wrt video I disagree with you : in "some" circumstances, and whatever the subject, having a video is very important.

      It seems you and me have done the same sort of work (see my other comment), and from my experience, students who take courses 8 hours a day each day of the week LOVE the video. We did a study and polled them about this very subject : they "feel" teachers consider them more (of course in reality most

  • That's the first question to ask yourself, because video "conferencing", as in "more than just two endpoints" can chew up a lot of it, more or less, depending on the technology used. That said, Counterpath has a couple of products that will do multi-user video conferencing on your PC. And they're inexpensive - less than $50 per seat.
  • Tons of options (Score:3, Informative)

    by NateTech (50881) on Friday January 22, 2010 @11:24AM (#30859734) Homepage

    Full disclosure: I work for Polycom.

    The industry is booming right now with tons of high-quality options in the marketplace. I'll avoid discussing Skype and other freebies, and tell you about the "pro" stuff. Everyone else is covering the freebies adequately, other than to point out that the things you want to know are... Resolution and frame rate. When something uses a non-technical term like "HD" to describe the box, as "HD at what resolution and frame rate?".

    I'll stick to generalities below:

    - Polycom, Cisco, Tandberg (now merging with Cisco), and LifeSize all make useful dedicated hardware at various price-points.
    - Company histories: Cisco is selling video as an add-on to the "full Cisco religious experience". They bought Tandberg recently.
    - Tandberg is well-respected and also has a large percentage of their business selling specialized boxes for video broadcast/cable TV, etc... that have nothing to do with videoconferencing. (Similar technology, obviously...) No one really knows why Cisco bought them, but it's interesting what will happen to all of their product lines. (Does Cisco really want to sell on-the-fly video transcoding devices to TV stations? Odd.)
    - LifeSize is former Polycom people who left to do HD. Polycom immediately did HD as soon as that happened. (LOL... hey, that's just MY personal opinion. I'm sure someone would argue with that, but I've seen that pattern happen at LOTS of companies.)
    - Polycom and LifeSize are the only two pure videoconferencing, focused on just videoconferencing players.

    Other generalities:

    - People say you don't need video. I used to say that too, I came from a company that was acquired by Polycom and figured audio was all you ever needed. I've gotten completely hooked on being able to see real human emotional responses during meetings, etc. It's more useful than you think. Granted, if you're in a tech group or not using a room-based system or even an entire RPX room... you're never quite looking "eye to eye"... techies especially have multiple monitors, and tend to be looking off to one side. But you can still see the other person winces when bad news is given... something you could only "imagine the worst" on an audio conference.

    - Getting the video "job" OUT of your PC, even with two monitors on the PC (or more) is best if you do it a lot. Sooner or later, Windows is going to barf on itself during your call, or worse, you need information to CONDUCT the call, and you've got to reboot the thing you're talking through. I use our proprietary desktop client (CMA Desktop) when road-warrior-ing it, and it's great, but when I'm at my desk, a desktop unit like one of the switchable units that doubles as your second monitor, or to me, even better yet... the VVX 1500 I'm currently using, work very nicely.

    Really general stuff:
    - On modern dedicated hardware everyone does HD. Remember however that HD has to be compressed heavily if you're not wanting to burn 14 Mb/s of bandwidth per call. No one does.
    - Everyone has something proprietary built in on top of the standards.
    - Everyone has complete ROOMS available that they'll build that include multiple HD units that act in conjunction to give you a "I'm looking into the other room" effect. HP started that with their HALO system, but it was rapidly mimicked by all.
    - Everyone makes desktop clients. Some do SIP, some do H.323, some do both. They're all limited by the quality of cameras available for the PC marketspace.
    - No one supports Mac well. (Stupid, since the Mac has a camera built-in)

    Final note:
    - Tons of businesses are also moving toward everyone having Microsoft OCS for the desktop webcams, etc. It's 100% possible to completely integrate OCS desktops to dedicated room units, like ours, and vice-versa.

    #1 Answer to your ENTIRE question: Find a Value Added Reseller that knows what they're doing. In the education environment I can tell you that the customers who found a clueful VAR who worked with them to INTEGRATE room-base

    • by mbourgon (186257)

      Tandberg 1000. Used it, love it. Small & personal (we used it for 1-to-1's), but you can easily ship it somewhere and have them use it, then send it back. For us, it worked better than the bigger Tandbergs. And it's, IIRC, about $1500 per unit.

  • 1. For each teleconference location you need the following

    * Mac Mini -> $600
    * Logitech USB Webcam -> $100
    * Video Projecter -> $1300
    * iChat -> $0
    Total -> $2000

    2. You will also need one XMPP server. Here are cheap and easy options
    * One of those Mac Mini's runs the server edition and turn on iChat server -> $1000 (instead of $600)
    * Run OpenFire (Java based) on one of those Mac Mini's -> $0
    * Run OpenFire (or any other open source XMPP server) on any other server you already have -> $0

    3.
  • Anything out there and any experience with it? Not sure if you can ZRTP with video conferencing as well (it being geared towards VOIP).

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