Video conferencing looks better these days
It seems like you can't pick up the Star-Bulletin these days without reading about skyrocketing oil prices and the simultaneous rise in airline fares. Those of us who travel for business are beginning to feel the squeeze. Sometimes there are meetings that we have to attend in person--there's no way around that. However there are often routine situations such as committee, sales or even board meetings where the participants know each other well. In these types of circumstances, video conferencing offers a practical alternative.
In this column I want to provide readers with several options that can be applicable for home or business needs that won't cost you a fortune. In most cases all you'll need are a computer, a good Web cam (which you can purchase for around $100) and a broadband connection.
For low end voice and video, the easiest route is Skype (skype.com) which also has limited file- and document--sharing capabilities. Given the price (free) and the equipment you'll need (ordinary computer or laptop plus Web cam) it's a good option for private calls or even limited business use.
If document sharing is necessary, there are a whole slew of very inexpensive services such as WebEx (WebEx.com), GoToMeeting (GoToMeeting.com), ReadyTalk (ReadyTalk.com) and others that allow you to share docs such as power point presentation, photos, etc and audio connections for as little as fifteen cents per minute.
There is also a service called Yugma which lets you connect with up to 10 other people for free. Minneapolis-based video conferencing expert David R. Wooley regularly uses ReadyTalk for a nonprofit board he belongs to that includes participants in Paris, London, Minnesota and other far flung cities.
The next step up the ladder is video services where you can both see the participants with great clarity and, share documents. One of the more highly rated applications is SightSpeed, which offers both free and paid versions. Prices start as little as $20 per month for a single seat and $89.95 for five users. You're not going to get a life-size head shot of the individual on the other end of the line but the quality (30 frames per second) is pretty darn good. The free version of SightSpeed is an excellent way to pay online visits to out-of-state relatives and friends.
For corporate or high-end business usage, you'll want to consider hi-def teleconferencing which has the same crystal clarity as your hi-def TV at home. Products such as the LifeSize Express (from LifeSize Communications) sell for as little as $5,000 which combined with an off-the-shelf TV screen from Costco, Best Buy or the like, can give you a first-class presentation.
Videoconferencing consultant David Wooley says this type of system is ideal for business meetings in which executives really want to look at each other in the eye. However, bandwidth requirements are higher; you'll need at the minimum a very fast (at least 10 mbps) broadband connection, or better yet, a T-1.
For more information and reviews on videoconferencing check out www.thinkofit.com/webconf/index.htm.