Conferencing Means Video

Today’s Americans have spent most or all of their lives in the digital age. So, its not surprising when the vanity plate on someone’s sports car reads “ASCII 27” (look it up here) or another gives his age in hexadecimal (3216 doesn’t sound as old as “50”).

“There are only 10 kinds of people in the world: Those who understand binary, and those who don’t.” — Unknown

Granted, you are probably part of the geek sector if you think like this. But, we have all been impacted by digital technology and it shows by the way we talk, the tools we use and the toys we play with.

The 1980s

I began my career in 1981 as a software developer working on a teleconferencing project at the University of Dayton Research Institute for the U.S. Air Force. The system included large screen projection, a dual screen lectern with a “soft keyboard” and digitizing surface for electronic handwriting and control of the pointer. Images were called slides. They could be either color business charts or digitized black and white camera images (aka freeze frame.) Separate software existed for creating the business slides, capturing and processing the B/W images, and for presenting the slides (like PowerPoint). All of the application software was homegrown by our research staff as well as the multipoint network controller.

The audio portion of the conference used a secure government conferencing bridge. Hardcopy came in three forms: B/W thermal copies, 35mm color slides and 8×10 Polaroid prints. By 1985 we had customized and installed 5 complete multimedia and conferencing systems for the USAF, including the Logistic Command’s command post.

Limited bandwidth, computing speed and memory prohibited full-motion video at that time. Our system provided control of the electronic slides, electronic pointer and real-time handwriting over a 4800 BPS connection. The computing platform consisted of PDP-11 class hardware running RT-11 and RSX-11 operating systems. In the 1980’s, this was bleeding edge stuff!

The 1990s

While I had moved on to other software projects the teleconferencing industry continued to move forward — without my permission! When UDRI deployed our first email system I was drawn back into the communications arena. Not long afterwards a colleague introduced me to the WorldWide Web. I immediately started creating Websites by hand coding HTML. The Web remained my professional passion for the remainder of my career as a research scientist.

In between Web projects I found time to tinker with Webcams, Webinars, and various other communications tools. Sometime around 1998 I participated in a point-to-point video conference at Wright-Patterson AFB and a demonstration by TeleSuite near Dayton, OH. These were partly responsible for drawing me back to the teleconferencing industry.

2000 and Beyond

More computing speed and memory is available in today’s run-of-the-mill laptop computer than a whole rack full of those PDP-11’s. The combination of cheap computing power, widespread access to residential broadband and the viability of Voice Over IP (VoIP), set the table for what we all heard about in the 1960’s, what I flirted with in the 1980’s and what a few experienced in the late 1990’s – video conferencing. In fact, today it is available and affordable for anyone, anywhere there is a broadband connection — worldwide. I believe before long, the term “video conferencing” will be shortened to “conferencing” to eliminate redundancy.

Movies and television programs had shown us for years what to expect. Even so, people seem to have been caught off guard by this technology. It’s amusing to watch people experience their first video call. Like puppies, kids are curious and fearless — they can’t wait to sink their teeth into new stuff. Adults are more like cats. They tend to sneak up on the phone so they can see, but not be seen. But after a minute or two, some are waving, smiling, making faces, doing gestures and thoroughly enjoying the experience just like the pups, I mean the kids. I never get tired of watching this scene.

I think any company that is considering an investment in video conferencing would be wise to get started with video phones. The model I own is portable and hides in the corner of a suitcase. It’s easy to setup and use and very inexpensive. When needed, it interfaces easily to other equipment like DVD players, video cameras, external sound systems, large screen televisions, and more. It even acts like a regular phone when calling someone without video. Video phones are an excellent training tool for other video experiences like broadcast quality video conferencing.

Sooner than expected, some companies will recognize the benefits of acquiring a customized, acoustically engineered video conference room with special lighting, multiple cameras, a control room and more. This does not make those video phones obsolete. Their benefits remain the same.

Portability — Take video phones on the road; lend video phones to key clients who do not have a video conferencing capability.

Training — Video phones are great for acclimating people to video calling.

Low Cost — Because not every video conference needs full-blown conference room treatment, video phones make video calling affordable company-wide.

Video conferencing has finally arrived. Get started, have fun and gain a competitive edge.

God bless,

— CC

© Copyright July 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
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