A variation of videoconferencing is the desktop videoconference (DTVC): The former provides interaction between groups of people who gather in conference-style settings, while DTVC com-bines personal com- puting with audio, video, and communications technologies to provide real-time interaction from a PC. After sampling the capability of the Toshiba Tecra 740CDT laptop, Stephen H. Wildstrom, writing in the June 2 issue of Business Week, declared "low-cost desktop video is ready to make the leap from interesting toy to useful tool."
With DTVC, you can conduct a real-time meeting at your PC, with the visual image of other meeting participants displayed directly on your desktop monitor. With the latest, most powerful computers, the creation of (and increased compliance with) international standards, and more user-friendly cameras and software, the former drawbacks to this technology have been diminished, if not eliminated.
New software lets you and your fellow videoconferees work simultaneously on documents during a DTVC. With ActionView from ACT Videoconferencing in Wheat Ridge, CO, for example, meeting attendees not only work together on documents, but easy connections to Local Area Networks (LAN) and the Internet are included in the benefit package. Imagine that everyone wants to look at last year's budget. The participant with access to the LAN server can retrieve the document for all to see. Or, imagine attendees are considering using a new product from Software Inc., but not all participants have the complete product information. You can surf to Software Inc.'s Web site and "print" a spec sheet to a whiteboard for all participants to view simultaneously.
H.320 is the original International Telecommunications Union (ITU) standard for audio- and videoconferencing; H.323 is the emerging ITU videoconferencing standard that includes Internet collaboration; T.120 is the ITU standard for data conferencing.
All you need to get started is an H.320-compatible videoconferenc-ing end-point to fit inside an existing PC platform (some are MAC-compatible). To accommodate more than two locations simultaneously, an additional device called a multipoint control unit (MCU) is required.
For a low-end upgrade to give your desktop full DTVC capabilities, the cost is $2,000 to $3,000, which includes the installation and the high-speed ISDN line. High-end companywide systems, such as the new PC-based MultiMedia Communications eXchange Server (MMCX) from Lucent Technologies in Murray Hill, NJ, cost more than $25,000. MMCX allows several users at remote locations to be sitting at their workstations jointly editing a document with a linked voice or video call to discuss the changes. Users can even be added or dropped spontaneously from the conference. MMCX was scheduled for general release this month. For information, visit the Lucent Web site at www.lucent.com/BusinessWorks/mmcx.
Systems are also available for the attendee on the run. The Business Traveler, which can be packed in a suitcase, was created by RSI Systems, Inc. of Edina, MN, with offices in Amsterdam and Australia. The Business Traveler turns any television into a videoconferencing system in five minutes, RSI states. In addition to working with a video projector and any Mac- or IBM-compatible laptop, the system includes all the components and software necessary for a videoconference without a computer--as long as you've got a television and an ISDN line.
RSI provides a Desk Series that is fully operational by a telephone handset. If you can operate a phone, you can communicate globally--with clients or other offices--within 15 seconds. The kit comes with a small desk mike, camera, and TV phone and is best suited for professional one-on-one videoconferences. The other participant must have an H.320-compatible system (a video-ready television, for example).
Small room videoconference systems just got more affordable and efficient
Small room systems are now available for less than $10,000, including data collaboration software.
RSI's Room Series--to be used with a phone, ISDN line, and a video-ready TV or screen projector--is ideal for larger group meetings, as the microphone will support rooms of up to 1,600 square feet. Visit RSI's Web site at www.rsisystems.com.
Videoconferencing systems are now available with Image Tracking Systems. These cameras will follow the video image of a person without constant human intervention. Many offer a zoom, tilt, and pan capability controlled by an infrared remote-control device.
Meeting facilities are gearing up for videoconferencing You don't have to buy the equipment to schedule a videoconference. You can rent facilities on an hourly basis in "videoconferencing boardrooms" and an ever-increasing number of hotels across the country. If you require more than the desktop version but less than the high-end system, consider the new Sony TriniCom Mini 1000 ($7,000).
Companies such as Kinko's and Sprint have joined forces to create a global network of more than 140 accessible videoconferencing sites. You can meet your associates face-to-face, transmit graphics and video, or set up multipoint conferences with other sites. The other sites do not have to be Kinko's locations.
More hotels (Hilton, with its TeleSuite, and Swissotel are among the pioneers) are installing systems in their facilities to accommodate today's meeting market. The Hamilton Park Conference Center in Florham, NJ, for example, offers not only mobility (the unit can be used anywhere in the hotel) but the fastest system on the market. Dolce International, the conference center management company, says the system is compatible with any V.35 or RS440 system around the world.
The term "videoconference" also encompasses satellite uplink with broadcast video and downlink technology. That means you can give your presentation to an audience of employees in the traditional ballroom setting, while also reaching employees at any number of the company's far-flung branches.
What about meeting face to face? According to ACT Videoconferencing, some research has shown that up to 60 percent of business travel can be replaced by videoconferencing.
Hospitality technology expert Debra Kristopson, president, New Directions Technology, Chagrin Falls, OH, predicts that companies will continue to use videoconferencing to replace many routine face-to-face meetings. She maintains, however, that videoconferencing is not ideal for volatile subjects or when relationship-building is a priority.
The latest on the technology front The growth of videoconferencing depends largely on access to greater bandwidth networks, particularly those that handle voice, data, and video simultaneously. As prices drop and more bandwidth is brought to the home, videoconferencing technology will begin to appear as "picturephones" on our televisions.
You can download Microsoft's new NetMeeting 2.0 free off the Internet at www.microsoft.com/netmeet ing/. NetMeeting is designed for audio and video communication and data collaboration. More than 60 other vendors have announced products and services that are compatible with this new conferencing software. For example, Burlington, MAbased VideoServer announced that its Multimedia Conference Server (MCS), which enables electronic meetings across several remote sites, will support NetMeeting 2.0. NetMeeting will be a core component of the upcoming version Microsoft Internet Explorer.
The gateways that convert the traditional H.320 standard to the new Internet Protocol (IP) standard H.323 standard have just become available. V-Gate323 from First Virtual Corporation, for example, acts as a transparent bridge between the two standards and can support videoconferencing between clients on Ethernet, using Microsoft's NetMeeting, and standard videoconferencing equipment from vendors such as PictureTel.
Videoconferencing brings distance learning up a notch. Guest speakers or technical experts can present to a group from a remote location, giving you all the bang but saving you the bucks of transporting your employees to hear him or her.
Before you rent or buy, talk to experts and read all you can. This technology changes daily! That also means prices are dropping--but don't forget that in videoconferencing, as in many things, you get what you pay for. Shop around.*
Did You Know? 14. Sales of videoconferencing grew by 30 percent last year. Companies purchased 55,000 units, at a cost of approximately $660 million.
15. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that videoconference use has tripled annually over the past three years.
16. According to Runzheimer International, the Wisconsin-based hospitality consulting firm, six percent more companies between 1994 and 1996 were encouraging the use of videoconferencing as a way to control travel costs.