IP-Based Video Conferencing Means Business

Today's burgeoning VoIP industry is creating a wealth of Web-based applications for video, collaboration, and other communications

By James A. Martin | Posted Apr 4, 2008
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Communicating through video has finally become a viable option for small businesses. It's been a long time coming, but it's a genuine reality today.

Videophones, which were the talk of the 1964 New York World's Fair, have never quite 'gotten off the ground,' in terms of wide acceptance. On the other hand, the idea has never quite gone away, and today’s video chat and video conferencing systems are gaining traction with small businesses.

The ready availability of inexpensive Webcams and the ever-increasing number of Web-based services aimed at small businesses are two reasons for video conferencing’s growing popularity.

Another key reason: Most businesses today use IP networks, which provide a standards-based transport system that can support the bandwidth demands of video conferencing systems and related applications, according to research firm In-Stat. Also, In-Stat notes that the growing desire among businesses to 'go green' (through reduced travel and other efforts) is also fueling interest in video conferencing.

Video Chat, Videconference, or Telepresence?

First, it’s important to understand the difference between video chat, video conference, and telepresence.

Video chat: Usually, video chat refers to two (or more) people informally communicating online through an instant messaging (IM) service that also supports voice over IP, such as Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, or Skype. Most video chat services are free. They can certainly be used for business, but they’re primarily tailored to consumers.

While video chat services typically allow only two parties to communicate at one time, some, such as Apple’s iChat and OoVoo, a free online communications service currently in beta, connect multiple parties simultaneously.

There are other differences between video chat services to consider. For example, iChat and OoVoo let you record your video conferences (with the other participant's permission). With iChat, you can record video chats as MPEG-4 files and play them back in iTunes on your computer or on your iPod/iPhone.

Trying one of these free services is an easy, affordable way to test video conferencing before you use it in your business.

Videoconference: Sometimes, the terms 'video chat' and 'video conference' are used interchangeably. To further confuse the issue, videoconferencing may also be part of a 'Web conference.'

A video conference is a real-time video conversation conducted online between two or more parties, usually for business purposes. A video conference may incorporate other forms of online collaboration, hence the term 'Web conference.'

For example, during a Web conference you might share your desktop screen with others via a Web browser, in order to collaborate on a document or give a PowerPoint presentation. At the same time, conference participants may also be visible on your screen, in smaller windows.

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