The Difference Between a Virtual Audio Call and a Virtual Video Call?

Anyone who has been a part of an audio conference call will understand some of the shortcomings that come along with it. How can we eliminate or mitigate these shortcomings and provide a richer communications experience?

How I Navigated the Murky Waters of Video Conferencing: Confessions of a Small Business Owner

I am a small business owner, and like all small business owners my most precious commodity is time. I don’t have time to research new innovations in collaboration technologies, and so it was with dread and a heavy heart that I embarked upon my journey to understand video conferencing and how it could benefit me and my business. So if I wanted to introduce video conferencing into my small business collaboration tool kit, here are three important things I had to sort out to make video conferencing a reality …

Is your Communications Technology Framework a Patchwork or Tapestry? Why it Matters.

According to a recent study by Filigree Consulting, 72% of Corporate Collaborative environments are “Not Integrated” or “Unsupported”. The benefits of achieving an “Optimized” Corporate Collaboration EcoSystem are significant. Find out how to achieve an optimized Corporate Collaboration Ecosystem and why most organizations struggle to do so.

Are You Operating in the VoiceCon or Enterprise Connect World?

In the past the communications industry focused solely on the element of voice. Today in the Enterprise Connect world communications technologies must easily connect and incorporate many more elements than voice only. Being stuck in the VoiceCon world can pose problems for companies who are trying to be innovators and be industry leaders. Learn what key indicators separate organizations in the VoiceCon World and Enterprise Connect.

How to Get More Space From Less Space – Factors Offsetting Having Less Real Estate

As the old cubical farms of the Dilbert era are being replaced with open concept space, there are ways to increase meeting space capacity, even if you are reducing your real estate footprint. Here are 6 solutions on how to get more space from less space.

3 Real-Life Solutions to Ensure Video Conferencing Adoption

I was really disheartened the other day when I heard an IT Director at a major consulting company say that they have video conferencing equipment deployed across the country but they don’t use it much.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t heard this before, it takes much more than equipment deployment to make collaboration technology (in this case video conferencing) catch on.

Being an avid user of video conferencing, I am always baffled about why people don’t use their video conference solution. But I realize that it’s a little like John McEnroe asking why everyone doesn’t play tennis. As a seasoned pro, I always want to get to the bottom of what hampers adoption.

So I asked, “Why don’t people use it?”

His reply: “I blame myself for not really understanding the deployment.  We wanted to bring 3 locations into a single video call and each location has dual screens.  So if I am in Toronto and want to have a call with our New York and San Francisco offices, I want to be able to see New York on one screen and San Francisco on the other screen, but I can’t.  I have to look at them both crammed into one screen. So we don’t use the equipment much.”

Unfortunately for this IT director and many like him, that is a lot of money spent on a wasted video conferencing implementation.  This is a very real problem and probably a lot more prevalent than you might think.

And he was right.  There wasn’t much he could do to get the results he was looking for from his video conferencing deployment.  But that doesn’t mean you have to repeat the mistake he made.  You can achieve exactly what the consulting company wanted to with multiple locations on separate screens in the same call.

In fact there is more than one solution but the price difference between them is very different.

First, let’s define the problem.

• Most phone calls are between two people and likewise so are most video calls.  The tech speak for a video call between two people is a “point-to-point” call.  And if you continue the tech speak analogy, a video call with more than two people is a multi-point call.

• Most of the traditional video conferencing vendors – Polycom, Cisco, LifeSize, Radvision, Sony, etc., use a communication protocol called H.323 and when a multi-point call is made using H.323, what happens is that the video streams from each location are “combined” and sent to the other locations as a single stream.

• So in the example above, the Toronto location would get a single video stream sent to it which has the people from New York and San Francisco “combined” into a single video stream.  This single video stream can only be viewed on a single screen – it can’t be split up over two screens.  This practice causes the video images of the remote locations to shrink on the display, dramatically diminishing the value of the video images.

In other words, the screen real estate which the people in the other locations occupy on the screens is drastically reduced.  Screen real estate was critical to the Consulting Company and real estate is critical to a good video conferencing experience – see these blogs for more…

What the Movies Can Teach Us About Real Time Collaboration

Screen Real Estate – a Critical Factor in Making Video Calls As Good As “Being There”

• The 5 Biggest Mistakes Made in Determining Screen Real Estate in a Video Conferencing Room

So what can you do to achieve video conference adoption?

122405321Option 1: Have More than One Codec

With all the traditional video conferencing vendors, if you set up each location with 2 codecs and 2 cameras, you then have each codec in the office call one of the other 2 offices.  Then all the participants will be full screen on one of the 2 screens in the room.

Problems with Option 1: Twice as expensive; clumsy call operation; this solution will not scale.  Besides the obvious cost differential of adding a second codec and camera at each location, trying to integrate and operate two separate calls simultaneously is very difficult and most end users will never pull it off.  The scaling problem comes into play if you try to use this solution when adding in a 4th or 5th location into the call.

Option 2: Go Telepresence

This is similar to Option 1 in that there are either multiple cameras or codecs deployed in the Telepresence rooms but the images are stitched together and combined and sent to other locations as a single image to be displayed on a set up that is exactly the same (physical mirror images of each other) at the other locations.

Problems with Option 2: There are no problems with this type of deployment, however they are very expensive.  It takes a lot of technology, network and integration to elegantly pull off the high end Telepresence solutions.  But they are elegant and they work beautifully.  These rooms also tend to become dedicated “Video Conferencing Rooms” and not multi-purpose.  This is not good or bad, just a fact.

Option 3: Use a Different Video Technology

If you move out of the H.323 world and move to a newer video technology, you can deploy room systems that will allow you to use a single processor (codec equivalent) to put full screen images on both of the screens in the Toronto – New York – San Francisco example.  These commercial video solutions will allow for support for two screens with active presence or video on each screen.  The video architectures will let you move beyond 2 screens and go up to 20 screens – Hollywood Squares Plus!!!

Note: This solution would not only have provided the Consulting Company with exactly what they were looking for but it would have cost them less than the video solution they deployed.

Problems with Option 3: There are no problems with this approach except that if you have an existing video deployment like the Consulting Company mentioned above, you have to basically replace the core of the old solution with the new (except for the screens), plus, if you do go beyond a 2 screen system you will need to invest in additional decoders for each of the extra screens beyond the initial two.

There are very good solutions out there to make your video collaboration experiences as good, or better, than actually being there!  Doing it right will increase the velocity of collaboration in your organization.

Stay tuned to the blog for some of the upcoming topics including best options for sharing content and video in a collaborative call.

The 5 Biggest Mistakes Made in Determining Screen Real Estate in a Video Conferencing Room

Commercial grade video conferencing has long been about HD 1080p, QoS, MPLS networks, the right video conferencing codecs and all the other AV equipment that can accompany a video conferencing deployment.  But one of the most neglected investments has been and continues to be, screen real estate.

I find this ironic for two reasons.

First, “Big Screen TVs” have been driving the consumer TV market for the last few years.  Why? Because HD TV on a large screen is more engaging!  Most of us and most of our friends have big screen TVs.  The experience is larger than life and for live sporting and news events, the experience is often better than being there.

So, we have no problem investing in screen real estate for our personal viewing and we see the value it brings to the experience.

Secondly, the primary driver of early video conferencing adoption has been to avoid travel costs.  The theory being that people will have to travel less if they can meet using video conferencing.  But if the video conferencing deployment does not provide images that are large enough, then people will continue to have to travel because they won’t have a good enough experience from the video conferencing deployment.  Even though all the other video conferencing technical problems such as jitter, tiling, etc. may be solved.


Screen real estate is hugely important!

Here are the top 5 mistakes on screen real estate decisions that I consistently see in video conferencing deployments:

1.   The screen real estate is too small

What size screen to have in a meeting room is one of the key technical decisions in designing the AV components of a meeting room.  AV Designers are taught formulae to determine the optimal screen size.  In other words they are making it a technical decision.

Typically there are 2 dimensions considered:

a) The minimum size of display should be determined by the distance of the farthest away viewer, and

b) The closest participant should not sit so close to the screen so that it overwhelms them.  Like being in the front row of a movie theatre with a huge screen, you just can’t take all of the view in without moving your head. In addition, the brightness will stress you out over time.

 These technical measures are good for helping you figure out a minimum or maximum size for a screen in the room but they don’t consider the “Big Screen TV” factor.  Make the screens as big as you can to make the experience bigger than life.

2.   Trying to save money on the overall cost of the video conferencing solution by limiting the screen real estate.

I see over and over again an executive reviewing a proposed video conferencing deployment and is looking to save a few dollars.  Since most of the other components can’t be compromised, display screens are an easy target to save a couple of dollars.  This may have more to do with the historical cost of displays, but display prices have reduced more dramatically than any other component of a video conferencing deployment.

When you think about the amount of money that is invested to provide high quality commercial video conferencing – the network cost, codec cost, AV components and integration costs, trying to save a few dollars on screen size actually compromises the benefits of video conferencing experience. See this recent blog for more on the benefits of making the image “Bigger than Life”.

3.  Having only a single screen for room-based video conferencing

Without a doubt web conferencing (sharing content – WebEx, GoToMeeting, etc) is more prolific than video conferencing and most meeting rooms are used to share PC content in addition to any video conferencing capabilities.  Web conferencing can get a little confusing since you can share content using vendor video conferencing capabilities – see this blog article for more on this.

If the meeting room is designed with a single screen, sharing content will take precedence over seeing people.  So in a room with a single screen, the video portion will be relegated to a small corner of the screen or not be shown at all.  In either case the video portion of the meeting becomes pretty much useless.  The result is that all of the benefits of the visual experience are lost. This is another reason to have to travel for meetings because it won’t be the same as being there.   Avoid single screen deployments so video will not get relegated into the background.

4. Having multiple locations on a single screen

This mistake is a little less obvious and only comes into play when the call goes beyond a point-to–point call and has multiple locations in a video call – multipoint.  This mistake is also much more prevalent since most single codec deployments will combine the video streams from multiple locations into a single video stream.

But this practice causes the video images of the remote locations to shrink on the display, dramatically diminishing the value of the video images.  In fact, I know of customers who have deployed national video conferencing solutions that are not used for exactly this reason.  This is a very real problem.

I am planning a future blog article to provide more detail as well as some solutions to this problem – stay tuned.

5.   The image shown on the screen makes the participants too small

Although the video may be on the full screen, the participants are all really small. The image shown of the room is the whole room and in medium and large rooms the participants will all be very small.

This mistake is not the same as mentioned above when the actual video image becomes a small/tiny part of what is displayed on the screen.  This mistake has more to do with the camera view of the room you are in.  It is not really a problem with the screen size itself but the use of the screen to show the participants in the room.

The easiest ‘fix’ to this problem is to teach people how to use the zoom or to program in camera views that are automatically initiated when a person starts speaking, e.g. the person speaking hits a button that turns their microphone on and focuses the camera on them.  This solution works well in a room that is more geared to “Control Meetings”.

For free flowing, highly collaborative meetings the EagleEye II from Polycom provides a very innovative solution – check out my blog on eliminating the “Boardroom Bowling Alley”.

So the next time you are investing in collaboration rooms and technology, invest in screen real estate.  It will greatly increase the velocity of collaboration in your organization!

As always I am interested in hearing your views.  Please leave your comments and join in on the discussion.

Screen Real Estate – a Critical Factor in Making Video Calls As Good As “Being There”

I would like to share an interesting conversation I had with our Montreal location manager, Real Desmarais, on a recent trip to our Montreal office.  The conversation was revealing of just how powerful screen real estate is when you are deploying collaborative solutions between locations.

First, I do use collaboration tools to bridge many of the discussions with our Montreal office, but there are still times where being there is important:

  • When you have to meet with customers
  • When you want to spend a lot of time “soaking in” the environment to get a better feel for an operation
  • Spending time with people when you are not “On” in a conversation

Got it?  Now back to the main story…

Over lunch Real and I were talking about the bi-weekly Sales meetings that we hold.  Real is a remote participant in those meetings which are held in our boardroom in Toronto.

Real’s words merit repeating –I can feel the room react.” Wow! I have always underscored with our customers the critical need to invest in screen real estate in their meeting rooms but his response really brought home that point.

I told him, “You know, I have to say that when we hold the Sales Meetings you have a very big presence in the meetings.  Your face is bigger than life in those meetings [projected, full screen, on an 87” SMART Board] and everyone in the meeting is very keenly aware of your presence and what you have to say.”

Real responded, “Yes, I know.  I feel it.”

I asked, “What do you mean?”

Real replied, ”Even though I am sitting in my office in Montreal at my desktop, every time I move or do anything, I can feel the room react.  So I am very engaged and concentrating on what is going on in the meeting.”

Screen real estate has always been compromised in video conferencing installations and I believe it is one of the biggest mistakes people make when deploying video conferencing in their organizations.

Video conferencingScreen real estate is a great investment that is often not only overlooked, but can become the first point of focus when trying to pare down the cost of a video conferencing implementation.  The cost of LCD screens 5 or 6 years ago may have contributed to this problem and if so it is somewhat understandable.  But with today’s much lower screen costs and available alternatives, saving on screen real estate in a video conferencing room is like preparing for a race and then shooting yourself in the foot before running the race.

What I mean by that is that video conferencing deployments within an organization can mean a sizable investment in network, equipment, deployment, training, etc.  If you try to save money by limiting the screen real estate you are crippling the results you are trying to achieve before you even get started.  That sizable investment also has an even more sizable ROI if the video conferencing facilities are used.  The better the experience, the more the video conferencing equipment will be used.  More screen real estate, means a better user experience.

If you can make the remote participants bigger than life in your meeting, then they will truly feel like they are part of the meeting.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear that remote participants on audio only conferences are either forgotten on the conference call, or want to be forgotten.  When you are using audio only, it is very easy to have the remote participant drift into the background of the meeting.

The same is true with a very small image of video.   If the image is too small, it might as well not be there!  And in fact, many people turn it off because it doesn’t add much to the meeting.

Being remote can be “better” than being there for the participants on both sides of the video conference.  And to do that you have to make the experience, Bigger Than Life – see my previous blog What the Movies Can Teach Us About Real Time Collaboration.

Invest in screen real estate in your video conferencing deployments.  This goes for room systems as well as for desktop/laptop usage.  Screen real estate is actually one of the cheapest investments you can make to greatly excel the velocity of collaboration in your organization.

Follow this blog for one of my upcoming and related blogs – “The 5 Biggest Mistakes Made in Determining Screen Real Estate in a Video Conferencing Room.”

Getting Rid of the Boardroom Bowling Alley

The usability of video conferencing in a typical boardroom was dramatically enhanced in the last year, with Polycom’s announcement of the Eagle Eye Director II. Most video conferencing deployments in an existing boardroom are problematic. So what ends up happening is that the camera is pointed at the room from the front and is ‘zoomed out’ to capture the whole table. And this view never changes. People on the other end of the video conferencing call therefore see what can be called the ‘Boardroom Bowling Alley’ effect.

Collaborating on Your iPad

The iPad is changing the mobility landscape. More mobile workers and corporate executives are making the iPad and other tablets their device of choice for mobile computing.

I must admit I was a little sceptical of using the iPad to replace my laptop, but without the need to create documents using desktop apps like Word, PPT and Excel, I find the iPad is light to handle, instantly ‘on’ and intuitively elegant in its user design.

But the real powerhouse iPad apps that I found for mobile collaboration really blew me away, not only in terms of how I can connect but how easily I can participate in active collaboration meetings.