Video technology is finding its place among virtual meeting tools, from teleconferencing to webcasting. And for good reason: Video lets you see facial expressions, which convey much more than disembodied words ever could. It brings virtual meetings to life. Besides saving the time and cost of travel (especially for very short meetings), the benefits of virtual meetings include increased efficiency (video meetings often are more tightly run), increased reliability (no flight delays), and easy recording.

At one time, the only means of videoconferencing was via satellite, and costs were as astronomically high as the satellites themselves. But with the advent of faster data lines, you can buy good quality teleconference video at a fraction of the cost. And with the "fat-pipe" bandwidth currently being laid, videoconferencing eventually will become nearly as easy and inexpensive as long-distance telephone calls are now.

Satellite Broadcast This is still the best choice when you have large audiences in many locations and must have high-quality video. The video signal is uplinked to a satellite, where it can be broadcast over a large area. Each downlink must have a satellite dish receiver. Because of the equipment, staffing, and satellite time involved, this option can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Videoconference Rooms For a less expensive alternative, try videoconference rooms designed for group discussions, distance learning, and lecture-style meetings. Good-quality video can be distributed via a company's local area network, ISDN line, or T-1 or T-3 high-speed lines. If you run a lot of these meetings, consider installing a videoconference room of your own. Today's prices range from $10,000 to $40,000, but they are dropping. More than 6,000 public sites are available at an average of $200 per hour. Kinkos (www.kinkos.com) is a leader in providing public rooms. For a directory of videoconference meeting sites, visit the GVCNet Knowledge Base at www.gvcnet.com.

Desktop Systems Desktop units are best suited for one-to-one applications, similar to a telephone call. These units work over local area networks, ISDN lines, standard telephone lines, and increasingly, over the Web. Costs for stand-alone, non-Web-based systems range from $500 to $5,000, but prices are likely to decrease substantially in the next few years.

The pluses are convenience and low cost - just one computer and a $70 video camera can get you started. But low-quality transmission on a small screen can be a problem. Even at its best, Web video is substantially less crisp than broadcast video, and grainy, jerky images are common.

Webconferencing Web systems are usually point-to-point applications similar to telephone calls. These technologies, together with their many online collaboration tools, provide document sharing, desktop sharing, presentations, interactive white boards, and more, that can reach increasingly larger audiences. (See the "Offline Guide to Online Tools" for a detailed look at some of the top webconferencing companies.)

Virtual meetings will not replace face-to-face contact, but enhancements in these technologies will continue to make them indispensable communication tools.

1. With the latest high-speed data lines, good quality teleconference video is available at a fraction of the cost of satellite broadcasts. But if you have large audiences in many locations and need high-quality video, you may want to take advantage of the full-broadcast-quality video that satellites offer.

2. Web systems provide not only video but a range of collaboration tools. Sites such as www.webex.com and www.netmeeting.com offer a range of tools, including document sharing, desktop sharing, presentations, and interactive white boards

3. Your computer, and ultimately your cellphone, are the future of videoconferencing. A meeting will be a click or a button-push away at your desktop - and, eventually, wherever you are.