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Webcast, videoconference, telepresence, teleconference or virtual event???

We have experience in many kinds of web, video and telephone conferencing. Some methods are much easier, cheaper and more reliable than others and some are obviously less so. Most people don’t really know the difference between these methods. In fact, there isn’t really a standard definition for each as everything is still developing so quickly at the moment. The current ‘trend’ is for collaboration and inter-operability between these different systems and this can work with varying degrees of success. The Internet has made these types of communication more accessible but the Internet is not always appropriate.

Some of the terms we are most familiar with include skypegotomeeting and webex. So what are these and why are  they important? This type of communication isn’t new. MSN messenger has been offering ‘video chat’ for over 10 years and ‘voice-over-IP’ for 15 years. It is typically used for point-to-point communications on a personal computer. Webex and gotomeeting have gone one step further and allow for document sharing, instant messenging and video chat for multiple users. These work over a normal IP connection to the internet. This type of communication hasn’t really been given a name yet so most people refer to the software they’re using although it is sometimes called telecollaboration. These systems are often used for document sharing and run along side a teleconference.

Many of us are familiar with conference phones, often used in boardrooms. These are essentially speakerphones. Boardrooms are often linked together for meetings using a bridge or virtual meeting room. This is a teleconference. But we can also connect another person or a teleconference to an entire conference room. A presentation could be given over the phone or a number of people who are unable to attend could listen using their phone.

videoconference is really an extension of the teleconference but with added video. It might be for a small meeting or it might be for a larger conference. It allows people to interact both ways and presentations can be lead from the near or far end. Content sharing is also possible using an additional screen although the same level of interactivity is not possible as the content is streamedand not shared. Videoconferencing has traditionally been done over ISDN which provides a guaranteed point to point connection but now more videoconferencing uses the internet, eliminating call charges. A bridge can also be used to link multiple sites and/or users with interaction often managed by the bridge.

One of the problems with videoconferencing is that some people believe it doesn’t make the user feel truly immersed and comfortable and so a face to face meeting is always more productive. Videoconference system designers have taken this criticism on board and now design conference rooms with telepresence built it, making it feel like your colleagues are in the room. This is achieved through intelligent camera, speaker and screen placement so that colleagues appear life size and sound ‘appears’ to be coming directly from them.

These systems are all interactive to some extent but the number of users is limited. Webcastingallows an event, seminar or presentation to be broadcast to a (potentially) unlimited number of people. Webcasts are accessed using Internet enabled computers or many Internet enabled device (ipad, iphone, blackberry etc). It is possible to stream video, audio, content (slides or otherwise) or any combination. It is often possible to customize the interface and therefore integrate some type of feedback and/or interactivity such as chat, twitter or simply email.

Virtual Events haven’t really become popular yet but some big players in the webcasting world are focusing a lot of effort on this new concept. It’s like webcasting meets second life. Whilst attending a virtual event, it is possible to walk around and network with other attendees as if in a computer game using typical Internet communication methods like chat and voip. Other attendees might host meetings or webcasts, which are accessible via the virtual event. U2 famously held the first online concert inside second life.

So, I hope that provides a quick overview to all the different technologies and I wish you luck with each of them in the future.


Firewall problems are a thing of the past – introducing PUNCH!

Firewalls, NAT, port forwarding, words that strike fear into the heart of even the most veteran video conferencing engineer.

There are many ways to set up a codec on a network.  You can allow the codec access to a public IP, NAT to the codec or use simple port forwarding if you think you’re brave enough.

Any of these options require assistance from the in-house IT expert.  Of course that IT person should also be handy with video conferencing and understand the specific port requirements and also how H.323 work.  When you find that person, send him to me, I have a job going.

There are lots of ways that a firewall can be bypassed.  Some are much more complicated than others but mostly they require a lot of configuration.  What is really required by the industry is a way to just PUNCH! through any firewall and present the Video Codec to the outside world on a public IP address outside (and not related) to the network it’s on.
Well, we have this product and if you haven’t guessed already, it’s called PUNCH!  Each device is plugged into any network via the PUNCH! and that device is automatically configured with a public IP address on our network which will work with your Video Codec or any other device.

Don’t believe us, give us a try!


PresentAnywhere – Webcast and Video Conference from literally anywhere….

We are asked a lot about webcasting and video conferencing. Generally, people want it anywhere, at any time and they want it cheaper.

Lets take a video conference as an example.  Traditionally, there are lots of ways to facilitate this.  A connection is required from Site A to Site B.  This connection has typically been over ISDN. This is expensive for a number of reason.  Even if you disregard the fact that you need to make 8 potentially international telephone calls simultaneously, you also need to be on a site that actually has enough ISDN lines installed and configured for this kind of dedicated use.  They will be paying for these on a contract over a few years and probably not using them very much.  So very few sites actually have ISDN lines now that are configured appropriately and if they do, they’re really expensive.

That’s why, over the last few years, more and more video conferences have taken place over the internet which has become much more reliable in recent years.  The video call itself is effectively free to the end user assuming they can get a decent internet connection.  And this is still where the problem lies.

Most places have some kind of internet either wired or wifi, 3g or even 4g but generally wireless internet is not sufficient for a video conference.  Even if you can get the bandwidth, which is unlikely in the real world, it lacks the consistency and reliability.  That’s where our new technology comes in!  We’re calling it “Present Anywhere”.

“Present Anywhere” allows you to take all the different types of connections mentioned above and join them all together and make one virtual connection.  This is called ‘bonding’.  There are a couple of differences with our system though.  Other ‘bandwidth amalgamation’ software will make your internet faster but not for a single use.  So for example, whilst it might be quicker for browsing the web, it won’t make it any quicker than a single connection for something like streaming a single video or a VPN.  Bear in mind that streaming a video and downloading a video is not the same thing.  Also, some other bonding solutions require expensive hardware setups and the hire of leased lines and off site equipment and technical support.  Our does not.

Even if you can’t get fixed internet, wifi, 3g or 4g, we can still use domestic satellites which can be portable. If one isn’t enough, we’ll use 2.  And because we’re using compressed video rather than uncompressed that you would get on a satellite truck, we can get higher quality video through a smaller, cheaper satellite dish.

Basically, “Present Anywhere” allows you to present from … well … anywhere.


Cisco / Tandberg C90 now in stock!!

We are, as far as we know, the first company in the UK to have invested in the latest video telepresence engine, the Cisco C90 and made it available to our partners as part of our hire stock, supported by our experienced video conference engineers to take the stress away from your team.

We are able to offer support for a range of video conferencing equipment as well as full production services for your meetings, event, conferences and more.

The C90 is the most flexible codec on the market right now.  It has a mass of connectivity that can be fully customised and used to route a large number of HDMI and HD-SDI inputs and outputs as well as balanced and un-balanced audio and digital audio.

It connects to multiple sites in HD using over 10mb/s  (where available) which can be viewed with a customised layout.  Both local and remote layouts are fully customisable.  This allows each of the 4 independent outputs to have their own feeds.


The Importance of Internet…

The world has changed in the last 20 years.  Think about this… What is the first thing you do when you wake up?  And what is the last thing you do before you go to bed?  For me, when I wake, I turn off the alarm that is on my phone and I check to see if I have any messages.  Before I go to bed, same thing.

We are connected to our friends and colleagues in a way that we could never have imagined 20 years ago.  We expect to be able to contact everybody at any time, whether it’s by phone, text, email or instant messaging.  All of these methods of communication now use the Internet.

Approximately 30% of the planet’s population using the Internet.  To put that in perspective, around 8% of the population have money in the bank.  The Internet is connecting the World and bringing information and knowledge to every corner of the Earth (almost).  There are now 300,000,000,000 emails are sent every day.

So what about us?  I’m going to talk about conferences and meetings because that’s what I know.  If I’m in a conference or in a meeting, I need to know that people can contact me.  I might have to join a last minute conference call or send some urgent documentation to a colleague.  So why is it that hotels and conference centres don’t provide me (a paying customer) with free wifi?  Well, many of them do.

Even governments and councils recognise the importance of internet.  O2 provided free wifi in London during the Olympics and Virgin have been trialling free wifi on the London Underground.

ABPCO (Association of British Professional Conference Organisers) have a campaign called ‘The Conference Cloud’.  I am a massive supporter and I think more venues should sign up and adhere to the rules.  It’s easy and cheap to make sure your guests can do their work when they’re on your site.  That’s what 15 Hatfields Conference Centre have done by recently upgrading their wifi and their ‘pipeline’ to ensure everybody gets a very decent connection.  I know it’s good, we installed it and guests love it!


Balanced audio?

I work in so many places and with so many people where the concept of balanced audio (and the problems associated with unbalanced audio) haven’t quite hit home. But what is the difference?  Well, despite what you might have heard, it’s really quite simple.

We ‘balance’ the signal.  Essentially, the signal in the cable is carried down two wires, instead of one.  Each one is affected differently by any interference and can be compared later to find where the interference is and eliminate it.  That’s the easy explanation and not entirely accurate…

Ok, now if you get that, we can explain it properly.  How can you compare two signals and eliminate any interference in a simple analogue circuit?  Firstly, take the signal and create an identical but opposite signal.  So that is ‘phase inverted’.  These two signals are carried down two separate wires, the hot and the cold and they share a common ground giving a balanced signal 3 pins instead of the 2 pins used by an unbalanced signal.  So far, simple.

Now we can imagine that every interference ‘spike’ is a separate problem and deal with them individually.  Interference will cause an alteration in the sin wave as you can see in the diagram on the left and that alteration will be identical on both the hot and the cold wires.

Now if we just reverse the polarity of one of those signals again, both signals will look the same except for the interference spike which will be exactly opposite on both pins.  Now if those signals are joined back together to create a single signal, the interference will be completed cancelled out.

There are a number of other things that help such as impedance matching and shielded cables and perhaps we’ll look at those next…