The truth about people and cameras
Beware the pitfalls of videoconferencing.
By Sandra Gittlen | Computerworld US | Published: 00:00, 01 May 2008
With the rise in adoption and availability of enterprise videoconferencing systems comes a warning from IT pioneers: Thinking this technology is simply plug-and-play will lead to disaster.
"If you're going to spend all that money on videoconferencing - especially HD, which isn't cheap - don't cut corners. Otherwise, users will turn videoconferencing off and you'll do damage to your business," says Sergio Soto, videoconference technician supervisor at CoStar Group, a commercial real estate information provider.
Soto says IT teams should do their homework ahead of time and focus on all elements of building a broadcast-quality videoconferencing system, such as bandwidth allocation, traffic shaping and end-user training.
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"You don't want to say to your users, 'Here's a camera and you might look fuzzy.' Instead, take the time to get the [broadcasting] room ready, determine the right lighting, make sure the sound is good and that you have enough bandwidth," Soto says.
No detail too small
In fact, according to Soto, who uses a blend of HD and standard videoconferencing technology to connect 3,000 CoStar workers in the US and abroad, there are no details too small to consider. He found out early on that something as seemingly mundane as the colour of a conference room wall can have a profound effect on the user experience.
"We noticed that the person on camera was getting washed out by the white walls and that the camera would start to focus on other things," he says. This distracted users and posed a threat to CoStar's significant investment in high-definition conferencing equipment. "We painted the walls a couple different colours before we settled on light blue," he says, adding that solid colours like green also work well.
Another lesson: Be careful with plasma TVs and videoconferencing. "While plasmas look very nice, you have to stretch the image, and the images can quickly get burnt in unless you turn the sets off every night," Soto says. Instead, he recommends LCD TVs, but they, too, come with trade-offs, he warns: "The screen images don't get burnt in, but they do have a little delay and less colour."
An industry on the rise
While Soto might be ahead of the learning curve, a 2007 study by The Nemertes Research Group showed that the industry isn't far behind. Two-thirds of the respondents to the Nemertes study said that they had already deployed IP video to connect room-based systems. And almost 50 percent reported that they, like Soto, were evaluating or deploying high-definition and telepresence technology for those systems.