Advantages of starting with the desktop and not the conference room

The recent discussions here about how VSee simple desktop video conferencing compares to the traditional, room-based videoconferencing systems (Polycom, Cisco / Tandberg, LifeSize, etc.) got me to thinking about why the older systems are still so complex and difficult to deploy and use.

The first videoconferencing systems were sufficiently large, expensive, and complicated that they were almost always set up in conference rooms. There was one monitor (maybe two) at the end of the table, and one or more ISDN lines connecting to the outside world. Thus the shape of the screen (4:3) and the amount of the bandwith (n x 64 kbits) were fixed and predictable. Video calling followed the telephone model: you dialed a phone number and talked to just one other endpoint. Connecting three or more endpoints was a special case –just as in the phone world, and required additional, expensive equipment. If you were connected to one endpoint, you had a choice of switching the video to the active speaker or splitting the screen two or four ways.

Moving to the PC and the Internet removed all of the above constraints. Instead of using a remote control to split the screen into quadrants, the user could use the mouse to create as many windows as needed, and resize them as the meeting flowed between looking at people and looking at data. Bandwidth became more abundant, so instead of using an MCU to squeeze four videos into the space of one, you could just receive four streams. If for some reason the bandwidth wasn’t there, the codecs could adjust the amount of compression on the fly. Finally, doing the whole thing on the PC made it possible to do lots of other useful things, such as transfer files and share applications.

The legacy videoconferencing companies moved their technology to the desktop, but they were trapped by the need to maintain compatibility with all their legacy equipment. They were stuck with the notion of one screen and one bandwidth allocation that needed to be subdivided. They also needed MCUs, gateways, and media servers to mediate among the proliferation of protocols, codecs, and resolutions of the installed base of endpoints.

More recently, some vendors have recognized the value of offering some of the capabilities that VSee has had since its inception, such as a directory, centralized control, AD/LDAP integration, presence, and text messaging, but they’ve offered it in a way that is constrained by their past.

However, a system designed from the ground up to work on the desktop, such as VSee, still have the advantage in the following ways:

  1. VSee can support 6 to 8 people seeing each other all at the same time without requiring expensive and complex equipment and infrastructure upgrades. No MCU is required and VSee will work with the network you already have.
  2. Making a call with three or more endpoints is as simple as a two-party call. No MCUs to schedule. No worries that there won’t be enough ports available.
  3. VSee takes full advantage of being on the PC, allowing drag-and-drop file transfer, screen and application sharing, individual and group text messaging, and arranging the window to fit the needs of the meeting.

So when looking for a desktop communications solution, make sure to consider all of the costs – not just the endpoint itself but the servers and infrastructure upgrades that may be required.

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