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VSee vs. OpenTok – Amazing Video vs. Flash Legacy

More than 50% of VSee API customers were former OpenTok customers looking for a simple alternative. This is because OpenTok used Flash for video conferencing, which has well known video performance issues.

OpenTok was created by TokBox, a high profile startup co-founded by the co-founder of YouTube and backed by A-list investors such as Sequoia Capital (investors in YouTube, Google, etc). Initially, TokBox focused on a consumer offering, but has since focused on creating an API and platform.

VSee Advantages Over OpenTok

  • Superior video quality
  • Echo-free audio
  • Military-grade security
  • Rich API for a simple user experience

Audio and Video Performance

Both a problem and an advantage of Opentok is that it uses Flash for its video. On the plus side, Flash is just about on every computer, so no downloading is necessary for Flash to operate. On the down side, its real-time video performance just doesn't cut it. There is audio and video lag, and the video quality just isn't all that great. Delays becomes especially noticeable as you add more people to a group video call. Here's a sample of OpenTok/Flash poor video quality:
Furthermore, OpenTok is rather brittle so when people actually deploy it, they find that users consistently face audio and video issues. For example, we couldn't get our fourth person in the screenshot above, because Flash kept crashing on her computer every time she tried joining the chat room. Christina (on the far right) also kept getting dropped from the chat room call every few minutes for no apparent reason.
VSee, on the other hand, has pretty incredible video. In this sample, VSee is using less bandwidth than OpenTok, yet its video is much larger and sharper. Even with video meetings of 8 to 12 callers VSee maintains this video quality and callers rarely get dropped. We do it all the time at our Friday VSee meetings and during daily dev huddles. You can also see how these compare to VSee's amazing HD video in our VSee vs. Flash article.

Another key OpenTok weakness is that it has no echo cancellation, which forces users to wear headsets. In contrast, VSee provides crystal clear echo-cancelled audio for a headset-free experience.

OpenTok's audio and video performance is enough of an issue, that even OpenTok itself is leaving Flash behind and switching to WebRTC. (They've already released their first WebRTC version.) This is a very wise choice considering all the video conference companies Flash has already killed. But even with this improvement, VSee still has a huge performance advantage over WebRTC. We invite all OpenTok customers to do a VSee versus OpenTok benchmark. In fact, if you switch to VSee and don't like it, we'll pay 1 month of your OpenTok fee.

Try it out for yourself. That's what our customers love about VSee - great video performance and great audio even over networks with limited bandwidth!

Military-grade security

VSee was built with strong security from day one. In fact, we service such organizations as the Navy SEALs, the US Congress, and NASA Space Station Mission Control. With VSee, your conversations are protected by end-to-end 256-bit AES encryption that is FIPS-140 certified. In contrast, Opentok does not provide security.

Simple and powerful API

VSee is powerful because it's simple. Our research-based design minimizes the steps and clicks needed to get things done:
  • Bring your work group into a meeting: 1 click.
  • Share an application: 1 click.
  • Use the built-in annotation tools to mark up a shared application as you discuss things.
  • Send a file by dragging it onto the person's video window.
  • Build rapport as you see each other work.
Easily integrate VSee into a program or website with our simple and powerful API.

Why use Opentok?

OpenTok is great because users can do a video call practically without knowing how to use a computer. A video call or video meeting is directly accessed through the web browser without having to download or install anything, and there is no software to update. People can join a meeting just by going to the right web address without signing up for anything. The Opentok API is free, so anyone can integrate live group video for a customized online experience (however you do have to pay TokBox to do 3+ people video calls). You can see some of the neat ways people are using OpenTok in the OpenTok gallery.

The Story Behind OpenTok

Opentok was born when TokBox decided to change business strategies. Instead of marketing its struggling consumer video conference product, TokBox created an SDK (i.e. OpenTok) that allowed companies to embed a video conference component into their website. (This is the similar strategy used by Meebo*, another Sequoia Capital funded startup.)

So what happened to TokBox?

Founded in 2008, TokBox was red hot to the investors. TokBox believed that by using Flash (the same technology behind YouTube) it could become the YouTube of real-time video conferencing. The sell worked and TokBox raised $33M from some of the biggest names, including Jawed Karim, co-founder of YouTube, Roelof Botha of Sequoia Capital, and the late Rajeev Motwani, who played a key role in getting Google going. They also received additional investment from Bain Capital Ventures, founded by presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The problem with Flash is that while it's great for broadcast video such as YouTube, where delays up to a few seconds are acceptable, it's simply terrible for video conferencing. We have always thought that Flash would be the death of TokBox.

In full disclosure, VSee CEO Dr. Milton Chen had also approached TokBox investors Sequoia Capital and Bain Capital for investment, and they turned him down saying that Flash was the final story on video conferencing and anything not Flash-based would fail.

Even with a move to WebRTC, OpenTok's long term company health is still in question. After all, there are numerous WebRTC-based video conferencing providers, TenHands and OnTheAir, to name a few. Besides, Google will also provide WebRTC native integration and SDK, so it is unclear why anyone would pay OpenTok anything when it can get it free from Google.

[In fact, since this article was first written TokBox has been acquired by telecomm giant Telefónica Digital (@tefdigital) for an undisclosed price.]

Dr. Chen says, "despite our differences, I have always liked TokBox and its people. I actually got to know former TokBox CEO, Nick Triantos, who is one of the most talented entrepreneurs I know and a super nice person to boot."

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