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?


Liberal Arts College Expands Horizons with LifeSize

Liberal Arts College Expands Horizons with LifeSize

For more than 130 years, Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas has been providing students with an intensive, well-rounded education, and US News and World Reports has consistently rated them as one of the best “up-and-coming” Liberal Arts Colleges in the country.  The university is constantly looking for ways to improve the learning experience of its 1,400 students, and functions as an educational laboratory, finding ways to combine classroom education with hands-on participation.  That’s why new Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer David J. Hinson decided to add video conferencing solutions to the school’s academic arsenal.

Apple’s Next Disruption: Teleconferencing?

Apple’s Next Disruption: Teleconferencing?

FaceTimeOne of the slew of announcements made last week at WWDC was the brief mention that Apple’s FaceTime product would start working over cellular networks (and not simply be restricted to calls over WiFi).

FaceTime is a gorgeous video chat client (I’ve got a face made for radio, and sometimes the video quality has too much fidelity, but that’s a different post for a different day), and supports SIP in some form, albeit not a form that allows it to interoperate with other SIP compliant teleconferencing solutions.

But what if Apple decided to allow FaceTime to connect, via SIP, to outside systems? All of a sudden, the “conversation” becomes very interesting. Most room based Teleconferencing solutions from Cisco, Tandberg, and Polycom support SIP. Open FaceTime’s SIP implementation up a smidge, and suddenly every iOS device is now a teleconferencing client.

Fully implement h.323 within FaceTime, and now you REALLY have some disruption on your hands.

There are a number of quality software offerings in the h.323 space that would be immediately impacted if Apple decided to open up FaceTime, most notably Radvision’s Scopia, LifeSize’s ClearSea, and Polycom’s RealPresence clients.

Teleconferencing is one of those technologies that most people recognizes the promise in, but implementation is impeded by the high cost of ownership and the daunting task of navigating complex vendor channel relationships, rather than dealing directly with the teleconferencing vendor of choice.

But what if – at least from the client side – the endpoint can be consumerized? Then it’s a whole new ballgame.

Blue Jeans NetworkCompanies like are already disrupting the Multipoint Control Unit (MCU) portion of the teleconferencing sector with its Saas (Software as a Service) model. A move by Apple to consumerize h.323 clients would irrecoverably change the teleconferencing game, for the better I think – unless you’re a h.323 client vendor.

All of this is pure speculation on my part.

But as I see it, with a few small moves, Apple can once again leverage an army of consumer devices to totally transform an entire business segment.