Monday, February 11, 2013

Endpoint Enhancement: When a Webcam with an Onboard Microphone Just Won't Do

It's a technical reality: Video Conferencing solutions--at least from a host standpoint--are a moving target.  We have successfully demonstrated using Google PLUS, Skype and other subscription conferencing hosts within our installations.
There are two parts of creating a seamless and productive video conferencing system that are often overlooked.

The first is the quality of your camera.  There are many over-the-counter (OTC) solutions that are extremely inexpensive.  However, the simple reality is in the physics.  Professional grade conference cameras have far superior lenses and far superior capture technologies.  The result from a professional grade camera is an image that can be zoomed, panned, tilted and in many cases follow facial recognition as well.  And, there's no substitute for glass.  Just as a single lens reflex camera uses exceptional lenses, so do professional web cams.
We test many of these professional systems at our offices.  On one wall is the web cam, on the other 25 feet away is two-inch high, handwritten text.  Not long ago we set up a video conference from our Vermont offices with a friend in Amsterdam NL.  He was viewing on an Apple Cinema screen, very high resolution.  We asked him to comment on cameras from Vaddio, Lifesize and an OTC model.  There is no question about his response... he said he could easily resolve the text on our distant wall with the larger cameras, but not with the OTC.
We did the same with another friend in Chapel Hill NC.  Same result.  The larger cameras provided much more detail.  What does this mean? It means the image you send out to your staffers, or potential clients, looks amazing.  It does make a difference. Yes, it is substantially more expensive to purchase a professional grade conference camera, but if you consider how long you hope to use it-in many cases regardless of host considerations-you'll realize it is a worthy purchase for the long run.
The second is audio.  The reality with a video conference is that there is nearly unlimited potential for infinite audio loops, or endless echos.  The loop is simple to describe: the audio from one location is transmitted to the second and picked up at the second location, transmitted back to the first retransmitted to the second, retransmitted to the first...well, we you get the idea.  The technology that has developed to deal with this and maintain full duplex (simultaneous) audio operation is called AEC, or Automatic Echo Cancellation.  By way of comparison, this is fairly sophisticated technology that relies on a complex computer algorithm (formula) to measure, judge and negate these unwanted echo signals.
We offer AEC as stand alone Digital Signal Processing or as part of other audio and conferencing systems.  It works fabulously and, when properly installed, invisibly.  Better units do a better job. We find you do get what you pay for in most video conference situations.
If you are considering a new video conferencing system, or an upgrade to an existing installation, contact us.  We're at the forefront of this technology and remain ready to help you arrive at a solution that is easy to use and will leave your facility looking (and sounding) great to the rest of your video conferencing participants.

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