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?