Is PC-Based Video Conferencing Ready for Its Close-Up?

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This week, Tandberg announced its PC-based video conferencing solution, called Movi. Movi is designed for one-click connectivity and one-touch administration, making it easy for both the end user and the IT staff. It’s a centralized, server-based network device, and it downloads into the user’s Web browser; as a result, it doesn’t require installation of a PC client. The company promises that with no locally installed software, updates, diagnostics and measurement are much simpler than with other PC video tools.

Movi is 100% SIP and supports bandwidth as low as 64 Kbps, although 128 Kbps is recommended; maximum bandwidth is 768 Kbps. Movi for IBM Lotus Sametime is a plug-in to Sametime that integrates with the buddy list for one-click video launches.

Other vendors offer PC video conferencing as well, including Polycom and Avistar (which offers a very mature and robust PC video solution that I like a lot). And that’s a good thing, because PC video is the best way to spread video collaboration throughout the enterprise and maximize the technology’s ROI.

Don’t get me wrong. Room-based video conferencing is a wonderful tool, especially now that high-definition systems really do offer a true you-are-there look and feel. Executive desktops systems deliver comparable quality at a significantly lower price. And for companies that live and die by their relationships, telepresence offers an experience like no other. But when it comes to enabling visual communications for the masses, nothing beats a PC solution.

As more companies go virtual, supporting a growing number of remote and home-based workers, they can’t count on employees’ being able to access dedicated video conferencing rooms whenever and wherever they need to. To enable video-driven collaboration for everyone, then, PC video makes sense: all you need is a computer and an Internet connection, and you can participate in a broader discussion—even if everyone else is based in a conference room or telepresence environment. What’s more, only PC video truly fits into a unified communications application, so that users can simply click on the mouse to launch a video session with an available colleague.

Of course, there are a few gotcha’s For one thing, that Internet connection had better be robust—although most solutions support speeds at the low end of the high-speed spectrum, better quality comes with bigger bandwidth. And speaking of quality, not all PC systems have managed to overcome the sense that you’re watching a poorly dubbed foreign film, with noticeable gaps between when a person’s lips move and what he or she says. Not to mention the poor camera angles, lighting and perspective issues that come with web cameras and PC screens.

Still, I know this technology, like its room-based counterparts, will continue to improve (and heck, it’s already better than a lot of the YouTube entrants out there!). And as it does, expect it to lead the charge for visual communications in the enterprise.

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Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer