Wednesday, February 17th, 2010
VTC Express is committed to arming our visitors with information. There is an overwhelming amount of information on video teleconferencing (VTC) online, but sorting through specifications and getting simple, straightforward answers can be a time consuming challenge. So, as we develop our new site, we intend to keep our eyes on the prize – current, useful information about video conferencing.
For example, the industry is already seeing major changes as manufacturers and service providers begin a push to move ‘video calls’ into the consumer world. That new direction has also driven VTC manufacturers to continue innovating products for small and medium sized businesses. We are truly entering a new era for a technology that was once reserved for only large corporations.
We know that there are many small and medium sized businesses who are eager to begin enjoying the advantages of the telecommunity, that’s why we wanted to address one question that’s sure to be on the minds of cost-conscious VTC shoppers:
“What is the difference between Skype, or Google Chat, & professional grade video calls?”
What’s the Difference Between VTC and Skype?
The obvious difference is cost. Skype, Google chat, and other online video call services offer a scaled down, low resolution version of video teleconferencing that in most cases does not cost a user to use or download. Services like Skype also offer additional services (voice mail service, etc.) for a small monthly fee. These services are a perfect and wonderful way for people to stay in touch with friends, colleagues, and loved ones in a fun, Jestson-esque way.
But, there are some specific limitations for those who want to conduct business meetings over free services like these. To help make sense of the technical and performance differences between the two mediums, we asked VTC Express expert, John Vitale, to answer a few questions for us. We asked him about technical differences from video and audio performance, bandwidth, interoperability, and security. Questions and answers are below. Remember you can always (email us) or post a comment below with your questions.
Q: [ VTC ] Most people are aware that the video quality on a free, web based services, are not going to be the same as they would be on a dedicated video teleconferencing (VTC) system. But what are the technical (platform and performance) differences between Skype and video conferencing?
A: [ JMV ] Essentially, Skype is a consumer based service for use on a personal computer and is optimized for a personal, one person to one person audio or video call. Services like Skype do not offer multi-point calls, where multiple users can conference and share ideas.
[ VTC Tip: A multi-point call is a call in which three or more points (offices in three different locations) are connected simultaneously. A point-to-point model, like Skype, connects two computers and typically two people - though a family that gets along can snuggle in close and be in the camera's frame. ]
Q: [ VTC ] Why is Skype not able to do multi-point video conferences?
A: [JMV] Multipoint calls require a conferencing bridge to combine all of the participants audio and video into a single call. This is the same as if a company wanted to have an audio conference call with 3 or 4 people. They would use a service that provides bridge services for everyone to dial into the bridge and then the bridge would allow everyone to hear and speak to each other. For video calls, you not only have the audio but now also video.
Processing video calls along with audio on a bridge is a bit more complicated since you now have to deal with lip sync. This is where the person speaking, their voice actually matches their lips. Or you’ll get the old kung-fu movies effect where you hear the person speak and then you see their lips move. Doing all of this complex synchronization and compression and decompression of the audio and video is difficult to do on a consumer PC.
Skype’s design is based on a peer-to-peer architecture where there is no central server or processing unit to handle the calls. Instead the calls have the audio and video travelling directly to the user’s PC. Now imagine trying to talk to 6 people at once, with 6 audio streams and 6 video streams, the horsepower necessary to process all that video and audio and then make their lips in sync with their voices.
[ VTC Tip: View Kung Fu movie effect here (clip includes mild language and Kung Fu). This effect is actually caused by the translation and dubbing into English. It is much more fun to watch here than it is to have an audio lag on a conversation. It's also a little like watching the news on a satellite feed. It's very hard to enjoy a laugh with a lag. ] >
Q: [ VTC] Does Skype work with traditional video conferencing equipment? For example, can I call a person on their Skype number with my video conferencing equipment?
A: [JMV] No, Skype is a closed network and uses proprietary signaling protocols. This may change in the future but today only some products have supported Skype calls for audio only. One example is the new LifeSize Passport supports audio only calls with Skype. This means LifeSize implemented Skypes acll protocols and audio codecs to make this happen.
Q: [ VTC ]Would you say there is ever an application where Skype is preferable to video conferencing for a small to medium sized business?
A: [JMV] Skype is free so many small or startup businesses have taken advantage of this and use it regularly. However, the moment they are looking for better quality and reliability or need to talk to other companies that have business grade videoconferencing, Skype will not fit their needs. Also, Skype is really made for a single person, not larger groups so having a group business meeting with 3 or 4 people in a conference room is not what it was designed for.
Q: [ VTC ] Would you say there is ever an application where PC video conferencing equipment is preferable to Skype for a personal or entrepreneurial small business person?
A: [JMV] Desktop video applications have been around for quite a while (10+ years). The historical challenges are not really relevant anymore (i.e. PC power, network bandwidth, video/audio quality, cost) and some organizations tend to prefer PC based video over conference rooms. Skype, ooVoo, MSN, Google and many others all offer free or low cost services that provide PC based videoconferencing or otherwise known as Video Chat in the Internet world. However, these applications and services still pose a challenge for companies with local bandwidth and QoS, firewall traversal and management.
PC based applications such as Tandberg’s Movi and Polycom’s PVX or CMA Desktop, are designed for enterprises to implement, manage and control services their workers are using over their corporate network. These issues are becoming less and less as time goes on but the technology and industry still has a little more work to resolve these last hurdles before mass adoption and acceptance can be achieved.
Q: [ VTC ] What does VTCExpress.com offer as it’s best “budget” option for a small and medium sized business? And what features would be added in the mid-range and top-of-the-line video conferencing equipment?
A: [JMV] The best value provided by VTC Express is it’s video conference packages that provide the hardware, services and support as a monthly subscription fee. The customer doesn’t have to invest up front which could cost in excess of $3000 even on the lower end and instead can get everything for as low as a couple of hundred dollars a month.
The overall cost over the term of the contract may not be financially beneficial but the cost spread over a long period of time versus all of it up front as a capital investment should be more attractive. This is also beneficial to them because most do not have a sophisticated IT dept and maintaining these systems may be more than what the customer is ready to take on. VTC Express gives them solutions for this and all the support they need.
[ VTC Tip: Yes, it is a shameless plug, admittedly. However, our packages are a unique product, and a way for small businesses to allocate funds without investing in a lot of cash up front. Of course, if you know you want to buy a VTC system now, we can also sell you one from Tandberg, Polycom, or LifeSize »
Q: [ VTC ] Do you think Skype will remain a viable option for small businesses in the future? Or will it remain a model strictly for the consumer user?
A: [JMV] I believe they will continue to develop their offerings and will have better solutions for the small business owners. But their strong point is consumer based and their latest partnerships and appliance moves with LG and other appliance mfg’s says they are focusing on conquering the living room market.
So, as you might have guessed, there are times when an open web-based service will do the job perfectly well, and times when a video conferencing system is a wiser move.
Ultimately, it comes down to who you want to talk to, and what you want to accomplish with your video calls. Point-to-point (or one to one) calls that connect two individuals are easily handled by two PCs and a broadband internet connection. But for more efficient collaboration, particularly when three or more locations need to participate in the conversation, a professional system is what you will need.
Stay tuned to the VTCExpress blog for more information on the hustling and bustling world of video conferencing!