Room Size Videoconferencing, or Google Hangouts – Can’t We Just Get Along?

Room Size Videoconferencing, or Google Hangouts – Can’t We Just Get Along?

An oft-heard question in videoconferencing land: when do I use a room sized system, and when do I need to use Google Hangouts?

In the past, the usual answer is: use a room sized system when you want great quality, and use Google Hangouts when quality doesn’t matter.

Well. That answer is wrong. Not because room systems aren’t high quality. It’s because the question is usually asked outside the context of a solid use case for why you want to use videoconferencing to begin with. What is the problem you are wishing to solve.

Google Hangouts (and their recorded, broadcast version, Google Hangouts on Air) offer 720p HD video with noise cancelation. The quality is great, and offers (I argue) a more personal experience than room sized systems, because you can actually see the person that you are talking to, in detail mostly missing from room sized systems. Hangouts allow meeting participants to meet from where it is most convenient for them, rather than having to gather everyone together in one place. And more often than not, participants are better heard using Hangouts than when participating from room sized systems.

So… why use room sized systems at all?

Well, sometimes everyone must meet in a conference room. The boss requires it. Maybe everyone is away from their own devices. The system is setup in a classroom. Or maybe it is used as a collaborative space between two teams separated geographically. All these are great use cases for when room systems are appropriate.

The important thing to note that it is use case, NOT quality, that is (and should be) the decision driver.

With videoconferencing being a much higher friction activity than any other form of synchronous communications, it’s even more vital that you use a video platform most appropriate for the task at hand.

One-on-one video interview? Google Hangout.

Two or Three on one interview? Google Hangout.

Video class? Seminar: Google Hangout; remote lecture: room size.

Business meeting? Whatever the boss wants. But seriously – nine times out of ten, Google Hangouts will allow a much more satisfying, more personal, experience – than staring at an indecipherable set of pea-heads at the end of a long conference table 1,000 miles away.

I have very explicitly tried to stay away from the entire question of cost in this discussion. Needless to say, oftentimes just the mere mention of spending $30K-$80K on specialized video codecs for a single room is enough to make the decision for you.

Polycom, Cisco, Radvision, Vidyo, Mondopad… all of these systems are facing challenging times ahead, with the consumerization and commoditization of free high quality videoconferencing from Google. It’s only going to get worse for them, unless they can find a way to offer unique recording or cloud services that allow them to be something other than very expensive and hard-to-implement point solutions.

What are the odds of that happening?

I’d say, slim to none.

But until then – can’t we just get along?

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

I love it when inspiration strikes.

Driving to work. Watching TV. Singing in the shower.

One never quite knows when a spark of innovation will leap across the gap, and… wait a minute… aha!

Travis Peeples, our Media Production Director at Hendrix College, was working an event this week with several of our student workers. It was a three camera event, in one of our larger venues. Ordinarily, they would use a wired headset system to communicate; but the event that day precluded that possibility, as our mixer had used all of its allocated slots, and stretching our cables in this venue was not practical or workable.

All of this left Travis wishing for additional funds to buy a nice wireless headset system for our media center, when he glanced over at one of our techs, listening to music on his iPhone.

This was Travis’s Eureka moment.

We already had wireless headsets at our disposal, in the form of smart phones that all of our students had in their pockets.

Quickly, Travis set up a conferenced meeting, using BlueJeans (, and had all of our camera people and techs connect to the meeting.

Instant wireless headsets.

Now, we certainly weren’t the first people in the world to imagine using our smartphones as a group communication platform. But the point is, we don’t always imagine that these devices can be re-imagined in usages other than simply texting each other or snapchatting away the hours.

Ubiquitous technology affords us the opportunity to reconsider solutions that we have formerly relegated to single purpose devices and platforms, such as hardware clickers for classroom response systems (question: why would you ever buy a $40 clicker for each student in a class, only good for clicking answers to a proprietary receiver, when each student has a powerful multipurpose computer in their pocket – their phone – that is infinitely better suited to the purpose? Not to mention, free?)

I was extremely proud that in a moment of need, Travis synthesized the facts on the ground to come up with a workable, innovative, and sustainable solution, from the materials at hand. In higher education, we’re not exactly known to crack open the checkbook at a moment’s notice – so being able to “make do” is not only desirable, it is often essential.

If Necessity is the Mother of Invention, Imagination and Resourcefulness are certainly extremely close relatives.

Having colleagues as inventive, imaginative, and resourceful as our media center professionals at Hendrix (Bobby Engeler-Young, Sunny Haynes, and Travis Peeples) is one of the reasons why Hendrix College continues to be a national leader in engaged liberal arts education.


Tech Connects Us – Blended Learning and Videoconferencing Deployments in Higher Education

Tech Connects Us – Blended Learning and Videoconferencing Deployments in Higher Education

AV Technology editor Margot Douaihy hosts “Tech Connects Us,” a podcast exploring the ways technology can enhance real-time collaboration, creative problem solving, social engagement, civic responsibility, and mission-critical communication.

Margot talks with Hendrix College’s CIO David Hinson about the challenges and benefits of blended-learning and videoconferencing deployments in higher education.

Don’t Make Me Work Hard to Give You Money

Don’t Make Me Work Hard to Give You Money

I’m always confused by how hard companies make it on consumers to buy their products, online, and in “meat space.”

Have you been to a Walmart or a Best Buy, lately? Good luck finding someone to help you with your purchase (or even finding what you want to buy, for that matter).

For enterprises, purchases are often as much an exercise in persistence and diplomacy, than they are a straightforward transaction, as you haggle with vendors, channel partners, and sales people.

But there are a few companies that absolutely understand the KISS principle.

Southwest Airlines makes it ridiculously easy to book and purchase online tickets. Dropcam sells their cool HD WiFi cameras in a very easy online process (plus, free 2 day shipping!). BlueJeans network sells their awesome Software-as-a-Service teleconferencing bridging service via a drop-dead simple “try if for 14 days free” online form. And it goes without saying how easy it is to purchase goods from Amazon.

In short, these companies “get” the brilliant concept that it should be drop-dead simple to acquire customers, and sell them goods and services that they want to buy – now.

When I hear of companies that are struggling with their sales, more often than not it has to do with their sales cycle, as much as it does their products.

In my first year as CIO at Hendrix, I had one national vendor that I kept trying to give business to (in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range), that I couldn’t seem to even get interested in taking a purchase order. They are now firing thousands of people – and I am in no way surprised; not because they didn’t take my money, but because they didn’t seem to understand how to take anyone’s money.

It’s not only large companies that have this difficulty. Startups usually suffer from this malady (with a few rare exceptions), altogether forgetting that the reason they exist is to (one day, at least) make money.

The solution for companies struggling with their sales cycle is really quite simple.

Make something great – and then make it ridiculously easy for customers to buy and begin loving your product or service, immediately, if not sooner.