Is WebRTC Video Conference Ready for Market?

webrtc video

WebRTC and the promise of video calls right from your web browser has captivated the media and businesses over the past few years. So it’s not unusual for us to get questions about how VSee compares with WebRTC video.  Recently, we got this interesting question from a customer:

From your expertise, how much dev time would VSee save me over building my own VC system utilizing Web-RTC with other supporting open-source technology?  I have a development team with 4 engineers.

Building your own video conferencing system using WebRTC with just 4 engineers is an impossible task – if you’re trying to go to market fast and if you want to achieve high performance.  With that many engineers, you can touch up the interface of WebRTC video, but you can’t improve its performance. When Google open sourced WebRTC technology, it opened up an exciting new world of possibilities for developers.  However, it’s also worth noting that Google also held back a number of WebRTC components when it purchased On2 (the source of WebRTC video) and GIPS (the source of WebRTC audio).  So the truth is that while WebRTC performs better than Flash, its raw open source performance still isn’t that great. This is why even Google uses Vidyo to run Google Hangouts instead of fully employing its own WebRTC technology.

The Road to Great Video Performance

To develop great video performance, you have to do deep video work, and there are only a few companies out there who have successfully done this - VidyoLifeSizeZoom, VSee and of course, the big guys such as PolycomMicrosoftCisco / Tandberg…. Every one of these companies have two things in common 1) they have spent years working on video, and 2) they have large engineering teams devoted to video work. Working on video is like an arms race – either you commit a lot of engineers to constantly upgrade or you quickly fall behind on the performance curve.

Furthermore, developing great raw video performance isn’t going to be your only issue.  Keeping your servers operational 24×7 under a heavy load will be another big chunk of engineering time that is more than enough work to keep your developers busy. People expect video to work like the phone—when you need to use it, it works. Since everybody starts with SIP or XMPP server open source stack, you will need to do a lot of hands-on engineering to fix and improve what’s needed.  We have 4 engineers alone dedicated just to improving our server performance.

To Use or Not To Use WebRTC Video?

So your choices are:

  1. Stay on the WebRTC video performance curve. In that case, using 1 engineer to keep up with its interfaces would be more than enough.  You could also use OpenTok video API, which gives you a nice wrapper over WebRTC.

  2. Go native yourself. This would require investing in a large team of engineers and years of work – as VSee and our competitors have done.

  3. License video conference from VSee or one of our competitors and get the highest video quality out there.

WebRTC is a fantastic technology, and is definitely the direction to go.  In fact, VSee uses the WebRTC audio echo cancellation code in our audio pipeline.  However, at this point in time, WebRTC video is still immature, and companies betting on WebRTC will probably still have to wait 2-3 years before it is ready…or at least wait until Google starts uses WebRTC in its own products.

Milton, VSee CEO

Worksnug Interviews VSee on Video Conferencing Productivity

Video link: Worksnug interview – Milton on Video Conferencing Productivity

Check out Worksnug community manager San Sharma‘s interview of VSee CEO, Milton Chen.  In 20 minutes they packed in everything from

  • why Cisco WebEx is great for sales presentations, but bad for virtual teams
  • how a 1 second delay in clicking can mean a 50% loss of productivity
  • what you need for good video communication

About Worksnug

WorkSnug is a tool that connects mobile workers to the nearest and best places to work in the major cities of the world.  With dozens of teams around the globe, they review hundreds of viable workspaces for such things as WiFi, noise levels, power provision, community feel, even the quality of the coffee.  Users can also add their own reviews to Worksnug’s extensive database.  Get reviews from the website, or better yet, from WorkSnug’s free Augmented Reality iPhone app.

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Why Google Hangouts Dropped Vidyo For WebRTC

Updated July 9, 2014

So Google really has dropped the Vidyo plugin for Hangouts as it switches over to its VP8 video codec. It’s still not on WebRTC, although it’s surely getting there.  On dev versions of Chrome, Google Hangouts is now plugin-less.

In my article on VSee vs. Google+ Hangouts, I mentioned that Google had used Vidyo’s technology at one point to power their real-time video products (such as Hangouts and GoogleTalk video chat).  However, they eventually dropped Vidyo because in the end, Vidyo is just too complicated and requires too much infrastructure.  Meanwhile, the direction Google is heading is a browser-based experience with WebRTC.  In fact, this is the trend for video conferencing in general.  Here’s my quick summary of where video conferencing is going.

Three Generations of Video Conferencing Architecture

First generation: products such as Polycom and Tandberg (+) These products made video quality good enough for high quality conversations for the first time in history at a reasonable price (for IT departments).  Before Polycom and Tandberg, your choices were expensive hardware such as PictureTel ($100K to $200K) or software such as CUseeMe.  Software-based video quality was sufficiently poor that it was mainly a novelty and didn’t have market adoption.  Polycom and Tandberg offered hardware in the $10K to 30K range, a cost low enough for IT to purchase for conference rooms.  Polycom and Tandberg became billion dollar companies. (-) A downside of the first generation products is that dedicated hardware is required for the end point.

Second generation: products such as Vidyo and Blue Jeans Network. (+) These products were able to replace the hardware endpoint with software-only endpoints, and still achieve amazing video quality.  Furthermore, these software-only solutions are able to reduce the price points of HD video to only a few dollars per month – thus making high quality video affordable to most enterprises. (-) A downside of second generation products is the complicated server infrastructure.  For both Vidyo and Blue Jeans, video must first flow through a video server.

Third generation: products such as Skype, Tango, WebRTC/OpenTok, Hangouts, and VSee. (+) Third generation products eliminate the server infrastructure by using peer-to-peer video streaming. They will also be web-based, so making a call is as simple as clicking on a button on a web page.  Rising star, WebRTC, allows you to build video right into the browser. (-) The problem is WebRTC is only supported by browsers Google Chrome and Opera.  Since Google does not control 100% of the browser marketing share the adoption of WebRTC still remains to be seen, (Note: We list OpenTok as WebRTC because even though it currently uses Flash, it will be using WebRTC in the future.)

VSee, The WebRTC Alternative

An alternative to WebRTC is VSee.  VSee’s simple web API makes web calling trivial.  It does not require administrator permission to run (unlike Skype), thus a simple browser plugin is all that is required to start a VSee video call. Furthermore, VSee improves on the classic P2P approach of Skype and WebRTC by enforcing end-to-end encryption at 256-bit AES.  This not only makes VSee perfect for telemedicine, but also makes all VSee conversations private and off-the-record by default.

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VSee Live Demo at Sales 2.0: Face Power To Build Trust (And Get More Sales!)

Sales 2.0 marketing conference

VSee is the simplest way to bring the face back into today’s technology-mediated sales process, allowing sales people to make more money.  As Sales & Marketing 2.0 Conference opening keynote speaker Gerhard Gschwandtner says, VSee could be “the next big breakthrough for online sales presentations!”

Check out first hand what makes VSee a game-changer for salespeople.  As a silver sponsor of this year’s Sales & Marketing 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, VSee will be doing on-site demos at this year’s conference.  Swing by the VSee booth in the Veranda Ballroom Foyer between talks on the value of social technologies for enterprise.

Sales 2.0 Conference info

Monday, Oct. 22: 7:00 am – 6:45 pm
Tuesday, Oct. 23: 7:30 am – 6:30 pm
Location: Four Seasons, San Francisco
757 Market St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
Tel: 415.633.3636
Follow on Twitter #s20c

Research shows us that trust is a key ingredient to getting people to change their behavior.  But we all know this because we’re more likely to go to a restaurant recommended by a good friend than one recommended by a newspaper. It’s also why salespeople are regularly advised to build trust and rapport with customers and clients.

While this may be great advice, actually getting people to trust you can be another matter.  This can become complicated and time consuming with all the different media channels and social technology available for communication.  However, most of us tend to find richer media more satisfying emotionally and more conducive to building interpersonal trust.  Management researchers Kahai and Cooper have found that using “richer media can have significantly positive impacts on decision quality when participants’ task relevant knowledge is high.”

Perhaps a large part of this is due to the role of nonverbal communications in conveying trust.   Professor Rebecca Naylor from Fisher School of Business notes that “judgments based on nonverbal cues can be surprisingly accurate, particularly of personality traits relevant to the domain in which the target is being judged.” According to an article from the Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, for salespeople, 60 to 70 percent of communication can hinge on nonverbal communications.  Furthermore, it cites research that says “buyers today continue to assess the trustworthiness of relationship partners based on their impressions from the initial face-to-face encounter.”

As the simplest video conferencing and screen share tool, VSee makes face to face encounters for salespeople easy and effective.

Articles referenced

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Telecommuting Robots Can Boost Your Career

Would you consider using an office robot to telecommute? -WSJ poll

telecommuting robot

I’m a definite “yes”!  As a remote worker, I know that getting in face time and making myself seem “real” and personable to coworkers is crucial.  In fact, studies show that workers who put in less “face time” are less likely to be credited for working as hard as the one who does.  Studies also show that seeing and interacting with team members in their regular work environment is a big factor in improving virtual team relationships. So anything that boosts my presence and improves my work relationships sounds good to me, even if it means being a telecommuting robot.

But just how much “presence” and work context does a $9700 proxy robot give you?  Over the summer, WSJ reporter Rachel Silverman has been trying out one of these QB-82s (by Anybot, Inc) from her home office and tells of her experiences as a telecommuting robot:

“The robot made me feel closer to distant colleagues…. During my robot days, I interacted with co-workers I’d never met before, as well as others I hadn’t talked with in years; each of them was compelled to greet me as I cruised down the hall. I chitchatted at the office coffee bar, a more lively scene than sipping coffee alone in my kitchen.

…People connected with Robot Rachel, whose friendly mien was hard to resist….  I even chatted with the Journal’s top editor at the daily morning-news meeting, which never happened before from my desk in Texas.”

Source:  WSJ – Life As A Telecommuting Robot

Silverman shares that another QB user, Faith Brady at Elance Inc, is even able to fulfill her receptionist duties from across the country in Illinoise, greeting guests and offering them a drink at the company’s location in Mountain View, California.

Research with telepresence robots also has also proved to be very positive.  Cisco researchers found that people tended to be “more honest and open” with robot proxies than with human colleagues.  Microsoft researchers led by Gina Venolia found that they improved work relationships. A previous VSee blog post sums it up:

Remote workers…felt like they were more connected to the team and able to participate more fully in office life.  Their coworkers felt more familiar and friendly towards their remote counterparts and were able to interact with them in a more physical way, which also made them seem more real, especially those they had never met in person.

Source: VSee – Move Over Mini Me, Meet Virtual Me

Of course, with all the time consuming technical glitches Silverman and WSJ staff faced, it doesn’t look like the world of Star Wars or Buck Rogers is right around the corner.  Besides, robot proxies only work if you’ve got a few telecommuters.  What if you’re running a virtual office or an office where the majority of people are away from their desks on any given day?  In many cases, videoconferencing is still the way to go.  With more and more people working “flexibly,” video is becoming an essential work tool and not just an amusing diversion.  Versatile desktop video solutions like VSee abound the market these days, so it’s now easier than ever to find something that fits your remote work needs!

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photo courtesy: Anybots, Inc.