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Affordable and Usable Video Conferencing?

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the site-seeing-tour dept.

Communications 170

Sabalon writes "I work at a state university with remote sites, minimal space, and all the other usual bits. We used to have some dedicated-circuit video conferencing tools but those have fallen into disuse. The administration is now interested in being able to stream a class from site to site, or at least have a student at one site have visual interaction with a person at another site. My thought is that if Skype, uStream and others can do live video, there has to be some things out there that don't cost a fortune but work effectively. Key things would be the ability to use commodity web cams as a source, viewable on a PC (preferably all the main OSes) and the ability to add in other devices (say H.323 encoders) or desktop/application sharing. Are there decent products and solutions out there for us mere mortals?"

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We do this... (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30852610)

Here in Alaska.

We use Polycom for room to room communications, skype and gchat for person to person.

Try dimdim? (2, Informative)

CoffeePlease (596791) | more than 4 years ago | (#30852652)

We used it the other day and were very happy with it - it's free to try for small groups.

Re:Try dimdim? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30854384)

We used it the other day and were very happy with it - it's free to try for small groups.

Yes Dimdim is great - free for 20 people and super easy to use. Nothing otehr than Flash and Mac, Windows or Linux browser required for students to see your screen.

Re:We do this... (3, Insightful)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 4 years ago | (#30852734)

After reading the article...why not just use Skype or Ustream as they mentioned?

Re:We do this... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30853218)

After reading the article...why not just use Skype or Ustream as they mentioned?

Because they only support 1 on 1 video chat, not video conferencing.

Re:We do this... (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30853412)

Being an audiovisual engineer at a large University in the US, I can tell you that Skype DOES NOT work well for group videoconferencing. Skype was designed to be used with a microphone and headset, and for that purpose it works great. When you try to blast audio through a room with enough microphone pickup to get everyone in the room, feedback is your enemy. In order to do videoconferencing *right*, you'd need a dedicated videoconferencing codec such as a Tandberg C60 or other device that has built in audio-negating capabilities. While costly, they do things marvelously well.

Re:We do this... (2, Interesting)

wooferhound (546132) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854200)

Skype does have settings to control the audio just like a speakerphone. My wife uses skype to call from the US to Russia and the she turns up the incoming audio rather loudly and the microphone is 2 feet away from her and it works wonderfully without a headset.

Re:We do this... (1)

jeff4747 (256583) | more than 4 years ago | (#30855398)

I suspect she's using a fairly directional microphone. In which case, it works nicely in her set-up simply because it's not going to pick up much from the speakers.

But in the scenario in TFA, directional mics aren't gonna work, and feedback will be a problem.

Re:We do this... (1)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854140)

That's what I'm trying to figure out. Skype works pretty darned good for this sort of thing, and is multi-platform. I use it pretty often as my sister and 1.5 yr old niece recently moved 12 hours away. She uses the integrated webcam in her Macbook. On my laptop I use the integrated webcam and on my desktop I have a $20 Logitech unit. Works great for talking back and forth and being able to see my niece kiss the screen when the video pops up is way better than getting still baby pictures :).

Truthfully aside from video quality limitations of the webcams themselves, I'm not sure what the software could do better.

Re:We do this... (1)

socsoc (1116769) | more than 4 years ago | (#30855326)

what article? there's only a summary which is the entire Ask Slashdot.

Re:We do this... (3, Informative)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 4 years ago | (#30852996)

My team just bought an iMac with a nice display and put it on one conference room, while the guy on the other end has a little MacBook. You can do 2 or 3-way videoconferences with iChat over Jabber.

Re:We do this... (5, Informative)

Ruie (30480) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853264)

I recommend EVO [caltech.edu]

Re:We do this... (2, Informative)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854492)

Seconded. I work on an experiment at the LHC, and we use EVO to collaborate with teams across the world. +1 goodness.

Re:We do this... (1)

jamest_adelaide (320719) | more than 4 years ago | (#30855342)

Thirded. It's the way to go

Re:We do this... (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854706)

TFA mentions skype and uStream, and then inexplicably launches off on some quest for something else..

Ustream viewers need only a web browser.

Skype views can chat and video call using the free skype application.

Re:We do this... (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30855454)

This is a similar setup as used at the University of Chicago. They put in some proprietary junk some time back and nobody used it. Naturally, people figured out their own solutions. Then a group of kooks over at academic computing got wise and put together a package with Polycom, etc. Their big hardware vendor didn't like it, preferring to keep their fat contract, but that's an institution where if you don't give the faculty, staff and students something that works, they'll figure out their own solution and standards be damned. Better to go with what works and don't worry so much about some expensive one-size-fits all that will be obsolete next year.

Let skype and google do the R&D and just concentrate on helping the end users.

Lifesize (2, Informative)

xQx (5744) | more than 4 years ago | (#30855504)

I hated video conferencing for years because of tragic experiences with crap software on PC's that give you a fantastic postage-stamp sized video at 15fps over a 512/512k connection...

Then we were sold a Lifesize video conferencing solution at about $5,000usd per endpoint, which gave 720p room to room comms at 1mb/1mb (or PAL at 512/512k)

We did extensive testing of software solutions to try to find cheap options for people on the road, and found they were all cheap and nasty.

Lifesize now have a product called "LifeSize Passport" that sells for $1,000 - $2,000 USD... it's dedicated hardware, it just works. and for that price it's about the same price as any corporate SOE desktop.

So my advice, after many years of using this stuff in the business world: Stop screwing around with second-rate software on a PC platform and buy something that is going to make your end-users walk away thinking "wow, video conferencing was almost as good as being in the same room. As soon as someone invents violence over IP, I won't need to do in person meetings" not "gee the audio was pretty good, and you could almost make out his face if he didn't move around too much! ... lets just use the conference phone next time"

Cisco Telepresence (5, Funny)

nemesisrocks (1464705) | more than 4 years ago | (#30852654)

Wait... You mean Cisco Telepresence doesn't fall in the category of "affordable and usable"?

Damn. All those certifications (read: hours of watching "24") have gone to waste...

Re:Cisco Telepresence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30854482)

Wait... You mean Cisco Telepresence doesn't fall in the category of "affordable and usable"?

Damn. All those certifications (read: hours of watching "24") have gone to waste...

yeah i think we would all like Cisco Telepresence. but i think about 1 percent of us could afford that. " you are looking at $300,000 for a single side of the teleconference (or $600,000 for a two site Telepresence suite" (taken from: http://www.petri.co.il/cisco-telepresence-what-is-it-what-does-it-take-video-conferencing-hdtv.htm )

Does it need to be free? (2, Insightful)

potscott (539666) | more than 4 years ago | (#30852668)

Cisco WebEx seems to fit the bill, although I'm not sure if it'll run on *nix.

Re:Does it need to be free? (2, Informative)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 4 years ago | (#30852864)

For point-to-point, that's massive overkill. Just use AIM or Jabber video chat. They're built-into iChat on Mac OS X, supported by AIM on Windows, supported by pidgin on LInux, etc.

Re:Does it need to be free? (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30852966)

Pidgin is wonderful, but doesn't do video

Re:Does it need to be free? (5, Informative)

arose (644256) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854190)

Who moded this interesting? Pidgin most certainly does video [pidgin.im] , I've used it, it works. Try it for yourself if you don't believe.

ePOP (5, Informative)

MikeDataLink (536925) | more than 4 years ago | (#30852696)

I work for a large retail operation. We use a product called ePop http://www.nefsis.com/ [nefsis.com] It's affordable and does the job. Or as I like to say... it's GOOD ENOUGH. ;-)

Re:ePOP (1)

wk633 (442820) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853742)

What he said. I work remotely for a large University, and it works very well for us. No hassles. Multi-user. Easy to use. App/desktop sharing. Remote control. Not free, but pretty affordable. Did I mention easy to use?

Re:ePOP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30855010)

We use Nefsis as well. Since its PC based, you can have remote users use built in web cams/mic/speakers. We have conference rooms and rolling carts that use HDTVs, echo/noise canceling mics and highend video cameras connected via capture card. It works great. We are always doing multi-site conferences between sites across the globe. Its easy to invite outsiders, you send them a link and it takes them to a page where they download an activex control and join right in. Its so easy to use that I have family and friends join a quick room so I can control/view their PCs when they're having problems.

Re:ePOP (1)

cortesoft (1150075) | more than 4 years ago | (#30855116)

Thanks, Cindy Lauper

OoVoo, but watch for drivebys (2, Informative)

Sir_Dill (218371) | more than 4 years ago | (#30852722)

Oovoo works really well but I did have some of their banners set off my AV due to drive by flash exploits in the banners they use.

Since then I have been hesitant to try it again but it did work very well.

Solutions (4, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 4 years ago | (#30852762)

Are there decent products and solutions out there for us mere mortals?

Just about anything will work -- unless your internet service provider sucks. Then you're kinda doomed. So do your homework on what low-latency providers are available or get a leased line between the sites.

Re:Solutions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30853792)

Once you find the low latency provider look at using Flash Media Server, the lower cost Wowza Media Server (which you can buy, pay by the month or by the hour), or the open source equivalant Red5.

OOVOO (1)

thrull1 (568534) | more than 4 years ago | (#30855192)

If you want multi user video conferencing, not all are created equal.
After trying many products, I settled on OOVOO because of reasonable cost (free for two-way, pay for more), quality (excellent), and features (even higher quality video and ability to chat with those who don't have the application installed).

Definitely an option for those of us who are mere mortals...

Dim Dim (3, Interesting)

ya really (1257084) | more than 4 years ago | (#30852832)

I've been recently setting up video streaming for a client and found that dim dim [dimdim.com] is free for up to 20 people (using their closed source software) and unlimited if you feel like building it yourself with the opensource version. It's not bad either, I can't complain for the price :)

Moodle (1)

teslafreak (684543) | more than 4 years ago | (#30852860)

There is also Moodle (http://moodle.org/), ff you're willing to do a bunch of setup yourselves

Re:Moodle (1)

loners (561941) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853164)

You can also check out openmeetings http://code.google.com/p/openmeetings/ [google.com] video conferencing. They have plugins to connect to moodle as well.

no to oovoo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30852874)

We tried it and were put off the pop ups, ended up using Tokbox, works good, and you can have 5 or 6 different screens up at same time. Really cool Woosh effect when some one joins up :)

How about using skype? (3, Informative)

TheSunborn (68004) | more than 4 years ago | (#30852932)

Is there any specific reason not just to use skype to send the video?

You can then upload the video to YouTube afterwards.

Get your school to apply for grants... (1)

DannyiMac (216056) | more than 4 years ago | (#30852958)

At the university where I work, we got a $100,000 grant from the USDA to upgrade our aging V-tel units to Tandberg systems a few years ago. If you want this done right, you'll need the right equipment, it's just that the equipment costs an arm and a leg and getting free money from the government helps. Also, perhaps going through a videoconferencing underdog like LifeSize could help get you going. I hear LifeSize is trying to get their foot in the door by providing sweet deals that undercut the likes of Cisco, Tandberg, and Polycom. Good luck!

Re:Get your school to apply for grants... (1)

karnal (22275) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854990)

Side note - I heard that Cisco either recently bought or was strongly considering buying Tandberg. In that case, I have to wonder what will happen to Tandberg - will it be streamlined into Cisco Telepresence, or will Tandberg remain a "Brand" of Cisco (aka linksys) while having the Cisco stamp on it?

Polycom (1)

BlackSnake112 (912158) | more than 4 years ago | (#30852960)

As mentioned already, polycom does make a good system for video conferences. For classroom use it might be limited. Depends on the size of the class. 30+ people and it might fall short. The smaller the number the better. Meeting size groups it is a great system. For larger groups, the camera is going to have to be set to track the speaker which might lead to some interesting camera views on the other side. Or the camera is set to get the whole group which means not everyone is seen clearly. Plus is an average cost of $10,000 considered low cost? Add up the cost of the camera, main unit, the part to connect a laptop and the price shoots up quickly.

I have used 3-4 different polycom models plus the PVX software. For meetings it is a great system. For two way class use, it sort of falls short. For one way class (a class is listening and watching to the professor remotely) use it works.

Have you checked out Google? (4, Interesting)

RobertM1968 (951074) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853016)

Google offers videoconferencing, and I believe it is free (sans the cost of the cheap USB camera you will have to buy).

Check out this article, then check out the links for it on Google's site...
Google to offer Video Conferencing [blogspot.com]

Re:Have you checked out Google? (1)

Rantastic (583764) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853330)

Based on your subject line, I was sure your post was going to contain this link: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=affordable+video+conferencing [lmgtfy.com]

Re:Have you checked out Google? (1)

RobertM1968 (951074) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853594)

Yes, not the best subject... I admit... sorry.

Re:Have you checked out Google? (1)

Rantastic (583764) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853910)

Actually, I thought it was a very clever and subtler way of suggesting that the OP should try searching a little ;)

Video taping a class is not uncomplicated. (2, Insightful)

hellop2 (1271166) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853042)

One thing to consider is that if you want to stream a class from a regular webcam you will not be able to see what is written on the board due to the low resolution.

Also, the teacher will walk out of view of the camera as they write on the board.

My school had motion tracking cameras. It looked like a normal video camera on a tripod, with a motor attached. The teacher would wear some kind of tracking device on their belt, and the camera would automatically follow them.

You would also want to consider a "smart board". Something that digitally records what the teacher writes on the whiteboard.

Pretty much, unless you script and edit a filming session while splicing in closeups of the board, your result will not be as useful as it could be.

Mutually Exclusive Requirements (3, Insightful)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853044)

The administration is now interested in being able to stream a class from site to site [. . .] Key things would be the ability to use commodity web cams as a source

You're not going to be able to usably capture a classroom lecture with webcam and associated microphone.

-Peter

Re:Mutually Exclusive Requirements (2)

markhahn (122033) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854510)

I think you actually mean "need something better than the webcam's microphone". there's no problem capturing lectures with good webcams, since they provide plenty of sensitivity, resolution, refresh rate. you'll want to put a lapel mic on the speaker, that's all.

FastVDO Smartcast (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30853068)

I've heard good things about FastVDO Smartcast hardware/software combo - not too expensive either. http://fastvdo.com/ - has a lot of power in a small box: http://www.fastvdo.com/SmartCast/

How about ViVu (http://vivu.tv) (1)

johannes_factotum (1726726) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853080)

Have you looked at ViVu (http://vivu.tv) they seem to provide a decent functinality for the kind of application you are looking for.

Mbone & VIC (5, Interesting)

JynxMe (1652545) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853092)

A few years back, my multi-site development group set up a web cam on just a regular PC running windows. Then we just set up Mbone [wikipedia.org] and VIC [google.com] to run the actual conferencing part. It worked really well and supported as many clients as we needed it to. I'm not sure if it's still around or under any development - but you can't beat the price ($0). And they have clients for most OSes.

Re:Mbone & VIC (1)

markhahn (122033) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854468)

mbone+vic (+rat) pretty much describes AccessGrid. AG works, scales, but is not great and definitely not convenient the way a web client with java or flash would be.

Re:Mbone & VIC (1)

dkf (304284) | more than 4 years ago | (#30855500)

mbone+vic (+rat) pretty much describes AccessGrid. AG works, scales, but is not great and definitely not convenient the way a web client with java or flash would be.

At work, we've developed a portalized version of AccessGrid that is effectively install-free (it does something complex with delivery of applications via JWS) and which works through most normal firewall configurations and doesn't require router upgrades or clients installing complex security. It's pretty neat, though not quite ready for heavy hammering on by the whole world so I'll not give out the URL here. And no amount of clever coding will get around the fact that video conferencing requires plenty of low-latency bandwidth to really work.

OTOH, if you're just doing screen sharing then there's some very good services on the web.

Zoiper softphone (1)

Zoa123 (1726818) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853144)

Have a look at http://www.zoiper.com/ [zoiper.com] (disclaimer, i work for them). We make multiplatform softphones with video support (currently only video on mac and windows, we will implement it in our solaris and linux versions later). In combination with an opensource proxy (opensips, kamailo) or pbx (asterisk freeswitch, yate), you can build a very nice conferencing solution, maybe some of your students will even be able to set it up for you. If the university you are working for is non profit, send us an email and we will provide you with free licenses for your students.

Go to meeting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30853166)

For classroom streaming Go To Meeting with Macs is a nice set up. I've been attending conferences using the system. You can type in questions or ask them verbally. Those functions can be actively disabled as well.

Use the bits like we do (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30853168)

I work at a state university with remote sites, minimal space, and all the other usual bits.

You already have everything you need. Use the bits to drill a hole into the ground,
then drill horizontally from there to the other locations and use a set of simple
lenses and periscope-style mirrors for video conferencing.

This works very well for us, we even implemented a network stack on top of
the video conferencing system. As a matter of fact, I posted this by dictating it
to my TOOL (Transport Overlaying Operational Linker) while watching him type it.

Ok, Jeff, just hit submit now and go take a dump, I won't be needing you to post
anything for the next 20 minutes.

Re:Use the bits like we do (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853484)

Use the bits to drill a hole into the ground, then drill horizontally from there to the other locations

You'll need a hole saw [slashdot.org] if you want the best resolution.

Aw, shit. Was I just trolled?!

In over one's head? Ask Slashdot! (2, Informative)

Rantastic (583764) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853180)

My thought is that if Skype, uStream and others can do live video, there has to be some things out there that don't cost a fortune but work effectively. Key things would be the ability to use commodity web cams as a source, viewable on a PC (preferably all the main OSes) and the ability to add in other devices (say H.323 encoders) or desktop/application sharing. Are there decent products and solutions out there for us mere mortals?

H.323 is a signaling protocol, similar to SIP. I have no idea what you mean by an H.323 encoder. I am also a bit lost by the phrase "us mortals." Are you looking for a solution that the infamous Joe Sixpack can set up? Since you have not mentioned in what capacity you work at the "state university" I must conclude that it is in a non-technical role. Why not leave the project to those with the technical qualifications (not to mentioned google skills) to handle it.

Re:In over one's head? Ask Slashdot! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30854054)

Maybe you should use your google skills to look up the slang used in the industry:
http://www.polycom.com/products/telepresence_video/video_conference_systems/room_systems/vsx8000.html
It is hardware endpoint without a camera called "codec". When the submitter used "H.323 encoder" it was obvious what he meant.

Re:In over one's head? Ask Slashdot! (1)

Meniconi,Nando (666243) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854694)

Moderate this one down, please.

What about point-to-multipoint? (1)

dublin (31215) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853238)

If I'm understanding the original poster correctly, one of the things he wants to do is have mulitple viewers of a single transmitter stream (possibly with some kind of moderated talk-back capability, too).

I'm far from an expert in this area (I haven't worked on a videoconferencing system selection in nearly a decade, and don't really use video chat myself - heck, I don't even *have* a skype account), but it seems like the OP needs some kind of point-to-multipoint capability.

Do any of the suggested solutions actually support that in any useful way?

Access Grid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30853278)

At my university we use Access Grid:

http://www.accessgrid.org/software

We use this at all of the South Dakota public universities for distance learning or meetings. It works quite well. It's also used extensively at the national labs so if you work with any of them it's a double bonus.

It's also scalable in terms of components so it can run on less than stellar hardware.

Video conferencing (1)

zoomshorts (137587) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853300)

www.camfrogweb.com if your budget can handle it

Videoconferencing (2, Informative)

TheSync (5291) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853402)

Cisco Telepresence is the best - also least affordable in terms of required bandwidth and setting up a special room, but it is awesome!

For a small number of sites, you might try SightSpeed [sightspeed.com] , they can do 9-way conferencing. I like its quality for a PC-based system.

Google Videochat is horrible quality, but has the unique quality of being able to make it through almost any firewall when you use HTTPS access to your Gmail.

Mac iChat is good as well.

Cheapest option... :P (2, Insightful)

creimer (824291) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853430)

Set up a water cooler inside an empty conference and the workers will gravitate there for a meeting. Of course, some of the biggest liars will try to dominate the water cooler. The plunger from the restroom will take care of that problem.

EVO, developed at CalTech for physics community (2, Interesting)

wdconinc (704592) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853436)

You should take a look at EVO [caltech.edu] . It was developed by CalTech for use in the high-energy physics projects at CERN. It is a Java application, no installation required, but works surprisingly well even with consumer webcams in mac and linux. You can use it for free by just registering and organizing a meeting in the 'universe' group, or you can request that your own organization is added (and still use it for free). It has all necessary features: multiple video streams, collaborative white board, recording and replay, file storage,... At particle physics labs around the world the meeting rooms are basically built around EVO, and polycom has virtually disappeared. It helps if you are close to one of those labs, or on an educational backbone.

Re:EVO, developed at CalTech for physics community (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854522)

It helps if you are close to one of those labs, or on an educational backbone.

Or can ride on ESnet

http://www.es.net/ [es.net]

Re:EVO, developed at CalTech for physics community (1)

dcraigw (776139) | more than 4 years ago | (#30855528)

We've had great luck using EVO in our research group, and I've helped set up "videoconferencing" computers in a few rooms on campus. Take a relatively modern computer with a video card (we've been using nVidia GeForce 9500 GT cards, or something comparable), connect a webcam and a projector, buy a decent echo-canceling microphone/speaker (we've had good luck with Phoenix Audio Quattro2 devices (www.phnxaudio.com)) and you can have a decent videoconferencing setup for not too much money. EVO also has support for connecting to SIP and H.323 systems, so you can use your EVO setup as a plain H.323 client or allow H.323 users (Polycom systems or whatever) to join your EVO meeting. And all meetings include telephone bridge access so users who have old computers, no microphones, or microphones that cause echo can join the meeting, too. You can also record all the audio and video streams to your hard drive and play the entire meeting back later. All for free. The EVO website suffers from a bit of poor English, and the user interface is a bit to "happy" for me (lots of colorful icons all over the place), but if you can overlook that, it really is a great system that's been working remarkably well for us.

ekiga (1)

godrik (1287354) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853486)

ekiga works wonderfully for me and is FLOSS

Re:ekiga (1)

DiegoBravo (324012) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854242)

The Windows client is too buggy to the point of being unusable.

DimDim (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30853506)

Give Dimdim a try.

It's free and opensource.

www.dimdim.com

Elluminate VCS (1)

DnA Works (147387) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853540)

My company offers a product called VCS (http://elluminate.com/products/vcs/index.jsp) - it's fairly inexpensive and does a good job for reasonable sized video conferences. It's being used by Harvard Business School and some other larger institutions.

TinyChat ftw (1)

DigitalJer (1132981) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853610)

I have yet to see anything easier to use for video conferencing than TinyChat. Just use Firefox or Chrome with Ad Block and you'll have a nice clean interface (or pay for a subscription - it's still pretty cheap).

Visimeet, based on DoE's Access Grid open source (1)

jwillybob (1726832) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853656)

IOCOM just released a new version of Visimeet (based on Access Grid, developed by Argonne National Laboratories) with free and premium options and with individual and room solutions. My group started using the free version, and we don't have to pay for point-to-point users. We connect dozens of students, and instructors can see all of them at the same time. The best part is that we only pay for a subscription for the instructors. The students are free.

Different Options (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30853658)

Having actually just worked on this with my current job, I can say decisively that there are a GIGANTIC number of video conference solutions available - and unless you have a dedicated 10MB pipe, there will be sound issues. Although we ended up going with Microsoft Office Communicator as our solution (not possible given your options - intranet only), we went through a major list of providers.

The number two solution for us was Nefsis (aka WiredRed), which is dedicated around presentations and multiple video sessions, is usable with anyone with a webcam, and do NOT require a server to run (though it's way faster if you do, obviously). Sightspeed, Megameeting, WebEx, and GoToMeeting were also on the list. Don't forget REALLY free options like Google Talk.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_web_conferencing_software is a great place to start looking for other options. CNet has some good comparisons, as well.

eBay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30853940)

If you do not need multipoint conferencing Skype is you best bet: it works on almost any computer with any webcam and you do not have to worry about firewalls. The latest beta supports HD video. Skype does not talk to h323 endponts though.
If you do need multipont however, be prepared to spend some money. The free (or almost free) solutions do not hold a candle to a real MCU. When you do not control your network a 100%, you will want transcoding and rate-matching, otherwise one bad connection will boggle down your conference. I suggest you look for a used MCU on eBay: many corp. are switching to HD video and you might find something reasonably priced.

SightSpeed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30853942)

Great video quality and low delay. Free for one-on-one. Low cost for business users and up to 9 X 9 conferencing.

Adobe Acrobat Connect (1)

Chameleon Man (1304729) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853956)

Adobe Acrobat Connect is an excellent tool that seemlessly combines what you seem to be asking for, including the ability to record sessions for later viewing. There's a free trial, but the full service costs $39/month.

http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobatconnect/ [adobe.com]

Re:Adobe Acrobat Connect (1)

Itninja (937614) | more than 4 years ago | (#30855300)

We also use Connect. But we opted for the licensed version and have a server installed on-site. Great product. All Flash based, works with any USB webcam or mic. The web server is a customized Apache install. We serve about 150 named accounts (with 1000's of 'guest' accounts) on a single server running W2K3 server. Connect also support clustering for licensed installs.

RTSP and StreamTorrent (1)

kgfowler (680743) | more than 4 years ago | (#30853994)

Use RTSP to stream and StreamTorrent for distribution. There are RTSP implementations to fit most any budget and need. Even something as basic as Videolan could work, depending on how much effort want to contribute on your own (or delegate). Using a StreamTorrent network might help with load balancing, especially if audience size exceeds capacity. But it really comes down to network capacity, audience size, desired content quality, and how much you want/need to 'protect' that content. - RTSP: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_Time_Streaming_Protocol [wikipedia.org] - StreamTorrent: http://groups.google.com/group/streamtorrent?pli=1 [google.com] - VideoLAN: http://www.videolan.org/vlc/streaming.html [videolan.org] -kf

Microsoft OCS is a great fit (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30854060)

Microsoft Office Communications Server R2 would fit the bill. Federation support so you can collaborate with other edu organizations. Adaptive bit-rate codec that supports from QCIF, VGA all the way to 720p and great wideband audio. Customizable Mac OS and Windows clients including Pidgin support. Built in internal and external multipoint audio and video conference bridge with continuous presence. The best NAT traversal (huge!) and remote access out of all the video conference solutions, no extra routers or port forwarding needed and it's all secured and encrypted over SIP TLS. SIP trunking support if you want PSTN connectivity. Everything is encrypted, IM, video, audio and file transfers. Screen sharing works very well for collaborating with customizable color depths for faster screen refresh.

Things that I think suck: Public IM connectivity setup takes over a month and is licensed poorly and very hard to order with a handful of different options. E.164 normalization for SIP mediation is not for the faint hearted. No persistent chat support (cant IM people that are offline and get the IMs when you log on) and the group chat is a completely separate client from a merger. Mac Messenger does not support Enterprise Voice so you can use it for AV but not as a softphone.

The edu pricing for OCS would be cheap like dirt and there a lot of organizations and clearing houses that you can federate traffic with. Check this link out: http://wiki.uky.edu/ocs/Wiki%20Pages/Federation%20Partners.aspx [uky.edu]

Well.. (1)

malkavian (9512) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854064)

SipX [sipfoundry.org] does that, plus a whole host of other things too.. May be overkill for what you're looking for though.. That's your call to make..

Skype and/or ooVoo (1)

neowolf (173735) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854134)

My company uses both, depending on our needs. Skype seems to have a lot less system overhead and is multi-platform, but it's really only good for 1-to-1. You can get rid fo the ads in ooVoo by buying a Business account. You just need as many "seats" as you plan to have simultaneous conferences. I believe you also need a Business plan to enable desktop sharing, which may be important. A down-side is if you enable desktop sharing- you lose the video feed from that desktop. It also only supports 6-way conferences, although that's four more (video) than Skype.

Anything beyond that and you would probably need to go with a Webcasting or Webinar service. They can be really expensive (like $1k+/month/doman with usage limits). I haven't found a good FOSS solution. Red 5 looked promising, but the development seems to have stalled. The only real in-house solutions for larger scale Webcasting or conferencing seem to be from Adobe and Cisco, which means they are prohibitively expensive. I think I read somewhere that Polycom has a solution too, but I haven't checked into it.

Gilaad (1)

insane_coder (1027926) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854136)

I work for an online university, we use web conferencing software from these guys [gilaad.com] . They have easy to use online tools for scheduling classes, and easily joining them from a central location. They also offer integration with Moodle which many universities now use. Their software also integrates with Microsoft's Live Meeting and Cisco's Webex, which have whiteboards, VoIP, desktop and application sharing, viewing multiple webcams, polling, raising hand, and so on.

Opera Unite (1)

sdisegno (1629893) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854142)

How about Opera unite ( http://unite.opera.com/ [opera.com] ) ? One of the unite application allows you to stream videos and could be suitably extended to do more.

Stargate version (1)

viking80 (697716) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854154)

I just checked out all the free video conf. I could find, and Skype won hands down. The big feature one was full screen. Other free sw has a small video windows. My company have many expensive systems, including Tandberg, and I don't really think much more of them than skype.

What I would really like is a video conferencing system that consists of a table sticking out from a wall, and with a mirror image of the room on the far side. Now set up your projector so your video conference just looks like your table continues into the wall to the far side. For effect, if anyone touches the wall, the projector ripples the image to make it look liquid like the stargate.

Also try "talking heads" with skype. Just fill in empty seats around the table with laptops with a skype connection to a remote person, and make her head full screen. You can even roll a bunch of meeting attendes around a factory floor, and drag them with you for lunch.

Re:Stargate version (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30855386)

No one else has commented but that is a brilliant idea and it is just what video conferencing needs.

No looking up or left or right to maintain 'eye contact' with the other people in the meeting. I would think that with the advances in LCD screens and cheap video cameras this would be quite affordable. I've seen some of those all-in-one Windows systems with the touch screens and wondered what they would be really useful for; this is one answer. As soon as this happens, sell any airline shares because business class is going to empty out rapidly I reckon.

PS3 (1)

rikkitikki (91982) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854186)

You can do video chat on the PS3. And you can chat with multiple people at the same time. I've personally done it with three people. I don't know what the limit is. All you need is a PS3, a compatible webcam (could be a Playstation Eye, PS2 EyeToy, and there's various other webcams that supposedly work), and a network connection and you're done. Oh, sorry, replied too fast...missed the requirement about needing to be viewable on a PC. Well if that's not a strict requirement, then you can think about the PS3 option.

Justin.TV (1)

RESPAWN (153636) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854204)

While I'm not sure if it's quite what you're looking for, I've actually had some minor success with broadcasting over Justin.TV.

Last summer one of our intern groups was giving a presentation to an NPO client. Unfortunately, most of the board was out of the country. So, as a last minute solution, I grabbed a web cam, a laptop, and set up in the auditorium. The quality was mediocre at best, but with more time, I'm sure I could have tweaked the lighting and the exposure controls for the webcam to get an even better picture. Additionally, Justin.TV allowed some nominal real-time interaction in the form of the chat room attached to the broadcast.

Was it an ideal solution? No. But did it get the job done? Yes. The viewers overseas were quite happy to have the opportunity to see the presentation.

Skype on a Tablet? :) (1)

ErkDemon (1202789) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854326)

I'd be interested to see what Skype looks like in portrait mode on some of the forthcoming tablet PCs.

I keep remembering that videoconferencing scene in Demolition Man, with the conference table surrounded by motorised portrait-mode screens. I think it'd be funny to have conferences where a missing member attended by Skype, and had a personal assistant assigned to wave their screen-camera around in an interested way to point at whoever was talking.

With a few absentees it'd start to look like Japanese mime or puppet theatre. You could have the operators wearing black ninja costumes to blend into the background. It could get surreal.

If you already have a MS EA Agreement (1)

BagOBones (574735) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854350)

If you already use Windows as your desktop and Exchange as your email / messaging systems you should look at Office Communications Server 2007 R2 http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/communicationsserver/default.aspx [microsoft.com]

- Integrates with outlook
- has desktop sharing with multi-monitor support
- you can use it will off the shelf hardware or cheap "certified hardware"
- You can use it for IM, PC to PC Voip, Video, and even as a full phone system replacement.

DimDim? (1)

lessgravity (314124) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854370)

Has anyone suggested DimDim? http://www.dimdim.com
It's free for up to 20 people, available for Windows, Linux and Mac.

you can stick with H323 and not spend a fortune (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30854582)

I do video conferencing for a living and I can tell you that affordable solutions abound. For $150 you can get an H.323 software from Polycom (PVX) that runs on a Windows laptop or PC and uses a webcam. It will interoperate with every H.323 codec and software out there. Or you can try CounterPath's XLite program.. which I think does video over SIP. The Polycom stuff now all supports video over SIP as well. If you want to go OSS then I use ekiga on Linux. I'm sure there exists stuff for MacOS too.

I think you should stay with a H.323 solution because if you do then everyone else in the world who is doing H.323 will be able to talk to you. Skype and a lot of other solutions people have recommended are based on proprietary, closed standards where as H.323 is an open international standard.

Also.. hardware codecs are no longer super expensive. You can get a unit from Polycom or Tandberg or Sony that will handle a small classroom for under $5000. Don't bother with the Cisco (or anyone else's) telepresence stuff until you really get big scale and need it.

Re:you can stick with H323 and not spend a fortune (1)

Mulder3 (867389) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854932)

I don't think so... H.323 is obsolete... SIP is the way to go... Asterisk and/or Freeswitch FTW!

Lecture Delivery requires a significant investment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30854738)

If you are attempting to find a solution for lecture delivery for students who are paying tuition, I think you are doing the students and the campus a disservice if you pursue a webcam based solution. You will need to convince the "powers that be" to budget significant dollars on standards based equipment (i.e. most University's are using H.323 devices but I feel the industry will move to SIP in the future). The system will need to designed from network infrastructure to classroom design to recording (including delivery and archiving).

At the research university that I work at, we are using Tandberg equipment. We have pretty much standardized on the Tandberg 6000 MXP codecs, but moving forward I have my eye on Tandberg C90's (most likely C60's due to cost). But we utilize H.239 (second stream for 1024x768 (and up) PC content) in addition to the video stream. A Tandberg Content Server is utilized to capture the course, and to hold multipoint conferences we utilize Codian 4501.

As you can see this is a significant investment in hardware, but if you truely want to deliver lecture via video conference, do not cut corners. Just my $0.02

Lifesize rules (1)

hrrY (954980) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854758)

Well, after working with thus stuff for the past few years, I would have to say Lifesize. All you need is an HD webcam, ideally a static IP or port forwarding/ triggering, minimum 1mb upstream and then your done. Granted, if you want conference room status, and more than 4 locations then you may have to buy a Lifesize room codec(few grand, depends on how big the room is and if you actually VC with 8 parties all the time). I strongly recommend the minimum 1mb part...

Lots of choices for dedicated hardware... (3, Informative)

rsun (653397) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854908)

Disclaimer: I work for LifeSize Communications, so I might be biased...

Anyway, in the dedicated hardware area, you've got HP and Cisco at the high end (100k++++), Polycom and Tandberg (merging with Cisco) in the middle end (10k++) and LifeSize and a host of other smaller players at the low end (<20k). If you want HD (720p30 minimum), you're not really going to find it on PC based implementations, most are limited to 640x480p15 - 30 due to the compute required to encode the stream efficiently. Polycom and Tandberg offer a mix of SD and HD products with the SD products generally being cheaper than the HD ones. Everyone in the "professional" video conferencing space is moving to HD. LifeSize offers products from 2.5k (passport - 720p30 only, point to point only) to about 17k (room 220, 1080p30/720p60, 8 way multipoint, H.323) with a variety of products in between. We pride ourselves on needing the least bandwidth to achieve certain levels of performance (e.g., we'll do 720p30 in 768kbps, 720p60 in 1mbps and 1080p30 in < 2mbps). Polycom and Tandberg offerings are generally 2x the bandwidth at the same resolution/frame rate. Cisco's telepresence stuff needs (I could be wrong here, but I think I'm in the right ball park) something like 18mbps for the 3 screen solution you've seen on 24 and a couple of other shows (that's 6mbps/screen).

There are plenty of pc clients, but truth be told, they look like a** compared to the (HD) professional ones in my opinion. Of course, I'm starting to realize that HD TV looks like crap too, so it might just be me.

Don't forget tablet, projector and whiteboard app (3, Interesting)

pc_goes_hmm (587040) | more than 4 years ago | (#30854924)

We've had good success with the following at each location:

- Mac Mini

- DVI Splitter (active not a simple cable -- bought ours at Fry's)

- Wacom Intuos (integrated tablet and video monitor -- the smaller model is recommended)

- DVI Projector (Sharp Electronics WXGA 2500) + screen

- Polycomm conference phone (new model with the cellphone noise-cancelling)

It's hard to have a technical conversation without a whiteboard, and while webex/dimdim/vyew/etc. have shared whiteboard apps, trying to draw with a mouse on a pad DOWN THERE while looking UP HERE while discussing your topic is just too danged disruptive (like trying to walk while rubbing your belly and patting your head). Drawing right on the "whiteboard" (screen) with a stylus removes most of the cognitive friction.

The only tricky bit is that you really need to project the screen if you'll ever have more than one person in the room. An *active* DVI splitter (passive cabling won't work) does the trick, but you have to ensure that the Mac only "sees" the Wacom monitor initially when it sets up it's display modes. Every time we have a power outage, we need to temporarily unplug the projector from the splitter then force the Mac to re-discover its displays (the Wacom needs the Mac to have the display resolution exactly right). It's also necessary to get a decent projector that can sync to the Wacom's resolution (we use the Sharp Electronics WXGA 2500 which has been terrific).

options (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 4 years ago | (#30855176)

Skype of course is going to be mentioned a lot. They started out as audio only, and their audio quality remains imho unbeatable. Video quality is not nearly as good especially if your internet connection is poor. Tends to drop frames rather than lower quality. Often video stops working entirely and you have to close and reopen the chat. No support for multiconferencing, no compatibility with anything else, client is available for numerous platforms and all work well. Fairly good negotiation through uPNP routers.

ichat uses the AOL network and works with most other AOL video clients. Extremely good at working around uPNP routers, it's very rare to find a pair that cannot connect. Supports multconferencing with up to four participants. Degrades video quality if your conditions are poor. Probably best done with macs-to-macs though. Only compatible with AIM network clients. Has very good quality video but the audio isn't as good as skype. Very user friendly / easy to use, moreso than skype or xmeeting especially for computer novices. Video compatibility between different varieties of AIM client was poor last I checked. (it HAS been awhile)

xmeeting uses a variety of protocols and does a fair job at both audio and video. Is compatible with other video conferencing software. h.323 etc support. VERY compatible with polycoms, you can even control remote polycom cameras. Client available for several platforms. Useful for when someone has a polycom and someone doesn't. There are "reflectors" available, I presume paid/rented out, for including large numbers of people in a broadcast from a single source.

All three support text chat as well. All three have some degree of uPNP to auto map ports, but you're usually safer mapping them manually where you can. All three work with most any video camera you can get OS support for. (macs and many newer laptops come with built in cameras, otherwise expect around $50) All support one way audio or one way video, in the event that someone doesn't have a camera.

VLC (1)

mungewell (149275) | more than 4 years ago | (#30855244)

I'm suprised no-one else has mentioned it, but VLC has had streaming capabilities for a long time.
http://www.videolan.org/vlc/streaming.html [videolan.org]

You can also use 'a big fat pipe' and get some really high quality images.
Mungewell.

WIndows Meeting Space? (1)

RichZellich (948451) | more than 4 years ago | (#30855310)

What about WIndows Meeting Space (the current replacement for the old Windows NetMeeting)? It's free, seems to have all the right features, and supports up to 10 users (PCs). Don't think there's any form of it that supports Mac's, though - you'd be limited to Windows boxes.

AccessGrid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30855470)

My university uses AccessGrid http://www.accessgrid.org/
It's not very easy to set up and get going, but you'll get your video conference, allright!

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