HISTORY:In the early 1980's, when VideoConferencing began to make its mark on the business community, manufacturers were few, networks were limited and the cost and size of the systems demanded some long, hard thinking by prospective customers. As a result, the dominant players of the day, GEC, CLI, BT, PictureTel, VTEL, SAT are no longer the companies which spring to mind when making a purchase.
|DESKTOP:During the 90's, the PC desktop market began to emerge with introduction of ISA and PCI cards which fit inside Windows PC's. Picturetel, VCON, CLI, Mentec, Focus and Zydacron all came out with their offerings based on what was known as the Siemens reference design, but all carried the same flaw which made them difficult to introduce for widespread deployment. That flaw was that each installation required the PC to be opened up, spare ISA or PCI slot located (if available at all) and software loaded on to the PC, something that large corporations would not permit and an activity which required constant user support and maintenance. Although complete desktop kits were a fraction of the cost of the large, dedicated room systems that went before them, they never really established themselves and the two dominant desktop players, Polycom (with their ViaVideo) and VCON (with their ViGO) introduced replacement technologies in the form of desktop appliances. These USB devices were supposedly “plug and play” but again the requirement to load and maintain software onto individual PCs in a large workplace or across a wide number of sites proved to be an inhibitor.|
Into the new Millenium, Polycom and VCON faced competition from Tandberg (now Cisco), LifeSize and RADVISION. ViaVideo evolved into PVX and ViGO evolved into vPoint. Tandberg brought in products such as Movi, RADVISION with Scopia solutions and LifeSize with CleaBecoming compatible with operating systems XP and Vista, these products are “software-only” relying on the user having a web-cam and using the processing power of the PC to supply the engine for the encoding and decoding in a way which is compatible with bigger room systems. Because software is easily downloadable from VideoCentric’s web-site, these packages have been much more accessible that the previous two generations, and performance has grown to almost match that of some of the meeting room systems on the market. Emblaze-VCON’s latest version of vPoint for example now operates at up to 4Mbps and supports HD transmit and receive. The big flaws however are that without an enterprise-wide management suite, installation of software is still on a per-PC basis and configuration of the firewall is necessary which is not something most users are sufficiently knowledgeable or confident about, to attempt. Additionally, even when PCs are configured correctly, users often find that calls will fail due to the receiving party’s PC being switched off, not running the software, or their web cam has been unplugged from its USB socket. In general, no “presence” information is available to the caller to indicate who is ready to receive calls.
Popular point-to-point web-cam solutions emerging on the market such as Skype, MSN, Yahoo which do provide a level of presence, are still regarded as lacking quality but their biggest drawback is that they are not compatible with professional standards-based systems limiting enterprise-wide deployment, VoIP convergence and overall centralised management. New packages from Tandberg (MOVI), from Polycom (CMA4000 and CMA5000) and RADVision (Scopia Desktop) address these issues but building a network to support them does rely on many other network components and it is in this area that experienced companies such as VideoCentric are able to advise and supply a complete solution.
The introduction of the VIPE® service by VideoCentric is a step towards making video as easy to deploy as signing up for a mobile phone contract or opting for a “pay-as-you-go” package. Short for Video over IP EverywheRe VIPER is an internet-networked service which couples an MCU, a pair of gatekeepers, an ISDN gateway, a desktop videoconferencing server, a firewall manager, a scheduler, a SIP server and a MS Outlook integrator into one package which can be rented on a monthly subscription service. Provided the user, anywhere in the world, has a Windows PC, a web cam and a headset, he/she can click on an emailed hyperlink and instantly join a multi-way conference with up to 11 other parties. Not limited to desktop PC videoconferencing, the service also allows professional H.323 boardroom systems and H.320 ISDN VC users to participate and even mobile phones, POTS phones, SIP clients, Microsoft OCS users or audio conferencing (starphone) systems can join through full transcoding built into the service. Out-of-date software is automatically updated the next time a participant uses the service. Rental of a “virtual meeting room” on the internet is simple and account holders can invite any PC-Webcam user that has internet access to join without them having to register with the service or download any software in advance. The size of the virtual room only dictates how many concurrent users can be in the video chat room, not which ones are allowed to be invited in. For example, over the course of a month a virtual room for 4 may be used by tens or hundreds of users with the permission of the account holder making it ideal for recruitment, financial, housing agencies, remote consultancy etc where individuals may have never video conferenced before and may not require to do so again afterwards. VideoCentric offers a free one week trial to any potential subscribers and application form is downloadable from the main VIPE® page.
|2007-8 has started to see the phasing out of traditional “standard definition” set-top devices and the introduction of the latest generation of “high-definition” equivalents in “two-part” form, i.e. the codec and camera being separated from each other, permitting flatscreen wall-mount systems to be minimalistic in nature, i.e. just the screen, camera and microphone display.
Today, HD is the main consideration and the three leading endpoint manufacturers, Tandberg, Polycom and Lifesize have each produced a range of world class systems, all of which are sold and supported by VideoCentric. In the sidelines, Emblaze-VCON and Sony continue to produce new models, which still have their place in certain applications and for those on tighter budgets. VideoCentric is pleased to advise on these and demonstrate accordingly to achieve the right balance of price vs performance at the level of bandwidth that is appropriate for a particular location.
|In addition to traditional meeting room systems, 2008 has seen the introduction of many brands of TelePresence system for the executive boardroom. TelePresence is form of videoconferencing whereby the images of the persons at the far-end are lifesize and positioned in such a way that eye-to-eye contact is maintained when looking in different directions at different people around the virtual meeting room table. The telepresence concept generally relies on multiple screens, multiple cameras, multiple codecs and a large room at each end equipped with suitable furniture to create the lifesize experience. Systems introduced into this market in 2007/8 include Tandberg Experia, Tandberg T3, HP Halo, Teliris, Telanetix, Cisco TelePresence and Polycom TPX and RPX. Because of the multiple codecs used within each of these systems, they are not strictly standards-based, ie you need the same system at each end. Owing to the physical size of these systems, VideoCentric is not able to demonstrate them at its own premises, but has access to manufacturer’s sites where a full demonstration can be conducted and if required, VideoCentric will take you on a tour of multiple systems allowing you to choose the best one for your own executive environment. Pricing of these “telepresence rooms” is at a premium and only intended for the most serious buyers|
|The concept of telepresence has recently been expanded from the definition above, to include “personal-telepresence” systems. Personal Telepresence is being adopted as a term to explain executive meeting room systems that are designed to operate in a standalone form, good examples being Tandberg’s Centric 1700MXP high-definition system designed for the executive desktop. The advantage of such systems is that they only use a single codec and therefore are international standards based meaning that video calls can be made to/from other types of VC system, unlike true Telepresence systems.|
|TelePresenter is another extension of the TelePresence theme. The Telepresenter suite of boardroom and training room solutions is based on a single codec working with one large screen but fitted with multiple camera so that participants can be “stacked” vertically (like BBC’s “University Challenge” program) or aligned horizontally for wide-room applications or where participants cannot all normally be fit into a single camera shot, e.g. in courtrooms where defendant, prosecutor and judge are all physically separated from each other albeit in the same room. TelePresenter by VideoCentric is controlled by a PC-based touch-screen controller (VC Commander), making it highly collaborative in VC mode, but also ideal for offline presentations (powerpoint, excel or SMARTboard), when two-way video conferencing is not required. Being based on a single screen with single codec it has the huge advantage that it is fully standards-based and customers may choose their codec (Tandberg, Polycom, Lifesize, Sony, VCON) to suit their existing corporate policy. Additionally the “single screen” may be an HD data projector so at the end of a conference, the boardroom can be “cleared” of items such as projector, cameras, projection screen etc by automatically retracting them out of sight, making for a much tidier appearance than traditional, cumbersome telepresence systems.|
|Regarding video networking, the dominant players of the 1990s, VideoServer, Ezenia, Accord, GEC/GPT, BT and Avistar have either been acquired or faded from the headlines and have all been replaced by two dominant players RADVision and Codian who’s technologies are demonstrated, sold and supported by VideoCentric.
RADVsion is still independent and Codian has gone from strength to strength with a world-class range of MCUs, Gateways and Firewall Management systems. Codian was taken over by Tandberg in 2008 although interoperability with every other manufacturer’s systems remains priority in their roadmap. Polycom still have their own competent range of video-networking systems for which VideoCentric has gained specialist network accreditation to install and support although this range is perhaps better suited to a Polycom-only environment that a multi-vendor one. Endpoints manufactured by Lifesize, Aethra and Sony are supported by infrastructure products from RADVision and Codian whereas Emblaze-VCON still develop their own platform, the cost-effective, VCB.
Cisco is another name which often appears when considering video MCUs and Gateways but their hardware is manufactured in Israel by RADVision and so VideoCentric has been appointed by RADVision to partner with Cisco integrators in the UK to ensure complete H.323/SIP compatibility when Cisco Call Manager products are to be integrated within a customer environment. Cisco resellers therefore supply the Cisco infrastructure and VideoCentric assist the integration process and supply, install and support the endpoints regardless of customer preference for Tandberg, Polycom, Lifesize, Sony or others.
Perhaps the biggest issue facing organisations is security of networks. Firewalls are designed to prevent packets traversing them yet efficient video communication with public systems requires them. VideoCentric specialises in getting this right and has a range of solutions to offer. Ranging from simple two port appliances (one port for the internal LAN and one port for the public internet) to fully-managed and secure firewall management servers which sit either side of the firewall, VideoCentric can present and demonstrate this at the highest levels. In considering a corporate video network, this ought to be the starting point.
|Bandwidth & Equipment Hosting:|
|As multipoint applications grow and interconnectivity with different network-types increases, the requirement for more bandwidth also increases. Many organisations find this to be a severe limitation as they are already stretched on their own data provisioning requirements. To assist this, the better VC integrators and resellers including VideoCentric are offering equipment hosting services whereby the customer’s own servers (MCUs, Gateways etc) are given rack-space at a data centre equipped with 100Mbps or Multi-Gigabit bandwidth. This allows the simplification of functionality at the endpoint premises and makes for a much more scalable solution. Additionally equipment is hosted at a point where it is most easily and professionally serviced, where security is highest and power back-up, air/moisture-filtering, alerts, alarms etc are installed means that the equipment is best looked after, albeit still allowing remote customer access for system administration and user support.|
|VideoCentric is here to help:|
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If you are already working with equipment that doesn't appear at first sight to be supplied and supported by VideoCentric, then still talk to us. There is probably a good reason for it. Through our detailed knowledge and experience and our association with Manufacturers, Distributors and Resellers in over 50 countries worldwide, we'll put you in touch with the right Company for the best pricing and service whatever the product and wherever you are.