Videoconferencing 101, Chapter 2



Chapter 2:  Videoconferencing Endpoints for Casual Users and Telecommuters

An essential part (actually, THE most essential part) of videoconferencing is the endpoint.   The endpoint is that piece of hardware, or mixture of hardware and software, that you use to make the call.

Figure 1: Endpoint from Polycom

There are many options available to you.

In this chapter, I will help you understand the breadth of endpoints avaliable to you.

Whether you are a casual user talking with friends, a telecommuter, or the CEO of a super large company, there is an endpoint to suite your particular needs.

Casual User

TelBitConsulting says:  Free videoconferencing is the name of the game for the casual user.

To partake of this exciting technology you will (most probably) need:

  1. A computer and know how to install programs on it
  2. High-speed Internet access (preferrably without a firewall)
  3. To be tech savvy enough to be able to follow (sometimes) multiple  steps on your computer to make a call.
  4. A web cam.

Not as easy as buying, plugging in, and using a telephone, but, entirely within the capabilites of many many people in the year 2009.

Your average GrandMa and GrandPa may need help getting started, but, increasingly people my age (included among us are those who invented these technologies) are now the new GrandMa’s and GrandPa’s…so we can handle this.  🙂

My favorite is still oovoo (I use it daily).  It works on Windows and Mac.  ooVoo in it’s current version allows up to three people to meet for free.  You can record, send a video “email”, etc. More advanced usage will cost a fee.    See my review of ooVoo.

Skype has free videoconferencing that works point-to-point on eithe r Windows, Mac or Linux.  I have signed up for Skype.  I just need to complete some calls for a review.

SightSpeed works on Windows or a Mac and has a free version and, for more features, will charge a fee.  I reviewed an older version of SightSpeed.

Google Video Chat has recently been introduced.  Using your browser you can connect using a web cam.  It works fairly well, but, was designed by folks who are not videoconferencing centric so the call procedure is a bit….steppy. It is only point-to-point.  See my review of Google Video Chat.

The products mentioned above are NOT standards-based.  You will not be able to interconnect with a corporate videoconferencing system nor will you be able to interconnect ooVoo to Skype to SightSpeed.  They only work with each other.

In the old days, I would say that would have been a major problem.  Not anymore…now it is perfectly fine (to me) to download a free app via the Internet, tell your friends or family….and make calls.  If you need to download another app…go for it.  The Internet has made it easy.

There are more free videoconferencing applications, do a Google Search on “free video conferencing” to find some of them.  Comments / suggestions are welcome….just comment on this entry.

Telecommuter (at home or at WiFi Hot Spot)

As a telecommuter, you most probably would want something that is portable (that is, works with a web cam) or a unit that is all-in-one, or a set-top on a monitor or TV.

All these are available to you, and what might also be avialable to you is technical support from your company.  How cool is that?

To work at home you need the same computer, connectivity, firewall, etc.  as the Casual User.  If you have a laptop, and you use it at WiFi Hot Spots, no problem…videoconferencing works great!

Your company may give you a set-top or stand-alone system.  You will just need to find a good spot to place it.


Polycom PVX has been around for many years now.  It is Windows based (only) and works very well with all the standards-based (ie H.323) systems mentioned in Chapter 1.  See my review of the PVX.

Mirial Softphone is fairly new and it also works very well with the standards-based equipment and endpoints.   In addition it provides HD videoconferencing on your computer (assuming your computer is high powered enought to handle it, and your Internet connection is sufficient).  See my review of Mirial.

Radivison Scopia Desktop is available.  That product allows you to connect, using your browser (IE preferred) to an MCU in order to meet with H.323 systems.  You cannot call an H.323 endpoint like you can with the PVX or Softphone, but, if you company has the needed infrastructure, this is a great solution.  See my review of Radivision Scopia Desktop.

Tandberg Movi is currently in Beta.  With Movi you call into the companies video infrastructure(Tandberg VCS) to meet with H.323 / SIP endpoints that also call in or are called.   You can call an H.323 or SIP endpoint  from the Movi but the call processing goes thru the Tandberg VCS located at your company.

Polycom has the CMA Desktop that was introduced in late 2008.  This is a corporate infrastructure system with a presence based desktop application.  A web cam is needed.  Connecting to a person, or H.323 room or “Telepresence” Room is a simple as clicking.    See this blog entry for more information.

Update:  I recently reviewed VidyoDesktop by Vidyo.  This desktop videoconferencing application, like Movi, Scopia, and CMA, is an infrastructure based  app using your browser.  The video quality is astounding.  H.323 interoperability is achieved via a gateway.

Stand-Alone or Set-Top

Various products provide dedicated videoconferencing capability.

A “stand-alone” system contains the monitor, camera, mics, speakers, and the videoconferencing hardware / software needed to connect to the Internet and make (or recieve) a call.

Figure 2: Tandberg 150 stand-alone endpoint

A set-top consists of dedicated hardware / software to connect to the Internet (or LAN) but no monitor.  Generally the set-top will sit on a TV or a monitor that the user provides.

Polycom ViewStation was one of hte original set-tops
Figure 3: Polycom ViewStation was one of the original set-tops

To find a set-top or stand-alone that may suit your needs you can go to the Tandberg or Polycom web sites.


Videoconferencing comes in many flavors to suit many needs.

More applications and services are becoming avialable for the casual user and the telecommuter.  I expect to see, but, I’ve been wrong at least once before, that as the economy crashes…desktop systems will become more  economically attractive than some of the more expensive options.   Also as the world embraces Green Technology the ability to meet without traveling to a room is a powerful concept.

Chapter 3 will take a look at the products targeted for the Corporation including Standard and High Definition Conference Room systems, high end desktop systems, and the “Telepresence” systems you have been hearing so much about lately.

Until then…happy reading.


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