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Implementing Intercom-like Videoconferencing?

Cliff posted more than 11 years ago | from the wouldn't-this-be-nice dept.

Software 46

Tangential asks: "I run a small (~100 person) consulting company with developers located in several locations (including SOHO's.) We run a VPN, so network connectivity isn't an issue. I'd like to improve day-to-day interactions between everyone here and I'm thinking of setting up (for lack of a better term) a video-intercom. I want people to be able to see and converse with each other at their desks, much as they would if they were all in the same office. Some of the folks here use Windows and some of us use Linux. I'm looking for a software and hardware solution that will operate pretty well between them and not swamp my systems staff. I need it to carry both the audio and the video connection and it is safe to assume that all workstations and laptops here are at least 1 GHz units. I'd especially like recommendations on which cameras to use on the Linux boxes."

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George Jetson! (1)

JDizzy (85499) | more than 11 years ago | (#6728516)

I picture in my mind Mr. Spacely reaching thru the video phone to grab Jetson by the collar while yelling. Why hasn't this technologie matured? Think it might have anything to do with people not wanting to face their boss while calling in sick? naw.. it couldn't be that..

In a head office, far, far away... (1)

Scorchio (177053) | more than 11 years ago | (#6730657)

"Jenkins, install a small camera atop of everyone's monitor, so I can make sure the code monkeys aren't sleeping on the job. Oh, and call it something innocuous, like a video-intercom system."

Eyeball (1)

rmohr02 (208447) | more than 11 years ago | (#6728547)

Looking at Eyeball Networks [] , I can't see a Linux version. However, if you had only Windows computers, this would be the system to use.

Re:Eyeball (2, Informative)

rmohr02 (208447) | more than 11 years ago | (#6728558)

Replying to myself, but o well...

There seems to be a Linux server, but no Linux client.

Re:Eyeball (1)

schmaltz (70977) | more than 11 years ago | (#6728993)

Linux has *all* the parts and pieces you'll need to put one of those together, what on earth do you need a Linux version of Eyeball for?!

Simply download and build the right mpeg and mp3 encoders, string them together with netcat over the vpn, code up a wish script to direct it all, and voila! Instant AV intercom!

Bah, who needs end-user software when you don't need end-users?! LINUX FOR EVER!!

Re:Eyeball (1)

Master Controll Prog (695769) | more than 11 years ago | (#6757578)

yeah. fuck the end users. most of them don't really like computers anyway.

it's all about having fun.

iChat AV HO (-1, Troll)

Dr. Cockulus (684502) | more than 11 years ago | (#6728743)

Port iChatAV to Linux you lazy son of a bitch! or buy macs!

I have a 100 IT consultant (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6728745)

But i will still ask /., cause they are cheap...

gnomemeeting and netmeeting (5, Informative)

bigmo (181402) | more than 11 years ago | (#6728750)

work together relatively well. There are some connection issues, but they don't seem to be a big problem. I've recently used gnomemeeting to connect to Polycom videoconfernece units and had success, except with the Polycom FX model. Gnomemeeting will work from behind a basic NAT with no problem. Net Meeting doesn't seem to work with a NAT though, but it sounds like you've got control of that sort of thing internally. I've used GM with a WinTV Go card and a logitech quickcam. I have an odd problem with it trying to load up two copies of itself under Mandrake 9.1 right now, but I haven't really put a lot of time into fixing it so far.

I used to think all the videoconferencing stuff was just geek love, but after working with it over the last couple weeks, I think it really does add something useful to the interaction.

Re:gnomemeeting and netmeeting (1)

willamowius (193393) | more than 11 years ago | (#6732861)

If you are having problems with NAT, you can install the GNU Gatekeeper [] on your firewall to tunnel your H.323 connections through.

Re:gnomemeeting and netmeeting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6734349)

Gnomemeeting now has plugin support in CVS. Please email the developers list with the Polycom FX specs, and you can't load two copies without making changes to Gconf settings.

Trolls? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6728778)

My question is: where did the trolls go?

Re:Trolls? (0, Troll)

bons (119581) | more than 11 years ago | (#6728862)

"My question is: where did the trolls go? "

It turns out that they were all French.
C'est la mort.

Re:Trolls? (1)

bons (119581) | more than 11 years ago | (#6732681)

(Score:0, Irony)

hows the consultant business? (-1, Flamebait)

thunker (206170) | more than 11 years ago | (#6728933)

must be slow if the owner has time to read trashdot forums.

Great, just like McDonald's (1)

sharkey (16670) | more than 11 years ago | (#6729085)

Dipshit in Marketing: "BzzzzzzzZZZttTTTTzgdI{{{lkda;f lkd WUDOJK"
Me: I said FRENCH FRIES!!!

for a Windows environment.. (2, Informative)

magores (208594) | more than 11 years ago | (#6729278) [] -- No hardware (other than camera) required. Audio and Video better than Netmeeting. Depending on circumstances, CUworld might be able to work with you on a dedicated solution that includes linux via h323. They host, so no stress on your staff.

I know in a windows environment you can get up to 25 people in one "room" at once and 30 video frames per second. Would like to see how the linux solution works out myself.

Hope this helps

Video Conferencing....... (2, Informative)

MeThOdXxX (687526) | more than 11 years ago | (#6729414)

If you would like some advice about video conferencing you could go to Inview video conferencing [] . Inview is part of Intercall [] , which is the third largest conferencing center in the U.S.

Intercall offers "Complete Conferencing Solutions" for all audio, video, and web conferencing.

Three-way (2, Funny)

cpt kangarooski (3773) | more than 11 years ago | (#6730060)

Don't forget that if a conversation involves more than two parties, the video displays should divide themselves up. As in all else in life, Voltron provides the best example of this [] .

Re:Three-way (1)

cybermace5 (446439) | more than 11 years ago | (#6733598)

Actually, I think the honor goes to Sluggy Freelance and Gofotron. [] ;-)

I'm still waiting for the first Voltron-sim network game where the robots are controlled by individual players and can team up to form a giant robot. Now there's a game that needs to be made.

uh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6730259)

You're a consulting company ...

... but you want free videoconferencing strategy advice.

When's the last time you donated your time or knowledge for the good of the "community"?

Interactions (1)

rf0 (159958) | more than 11 years ago | (#6730274)

Have you also though about other things such as an IRC server and IM services? Might help improve interaction


Videoconferencing solutions (3, Funny)

The Clockwork Troll (655321) | more than 11 years ago | (#6730277)

My company, Clockwork Enterprises, will gladly share our videoconferencing expertise with your staff.

We charge a nominal fee of $1,000 per consultant per day and expect our research will take a minimum 28 staff-days.

Implementation of discovered solutions is extra, as is bandwidth consumed during research.

Re:Videoconferencing solutions (1)

sg_oneill (159032) | more than 11 years ago | (#6741321)

Don't laugh. Used to work in vid conf field. Its free money my friend. It really is.

Webcam (4, Informative)

rikkus-x (526844) | more than 11 years ago | (#6730315)

I recently acquired a Philips ToUCam Pro 740. It works perfectly with Linux. It was a breeze to make work. Anticipating its arrival, I changed my kernel config to include the Philips webcam module(s). If you're using some nice dist like SuSE, you may have them already built.

When the cam arrived, I just plugged it in and started gnomemeeting. It worked.

It works very well in low light, which is handy if you like to work in semi darkness sometimes.


Grouplab Notification Collage (2, Interesting)

Tony.Tang (164961) | more than 11 years ago | (#6730568)

The problem with a lot of video conferencing software out there is that it's heavy-weight. It's hard to get it running, and by the time you do get it running (esp. in a small company), and sort of chatting over the system ("hey! can you hear me?" "what?"), you wonder to yourself whether you should have just walked over to the person's desk instead.

I suggest using the Notification Collage [] , which supports casual communication between close groups of collaborators (smaller teams within your company). It's an extremely lightweight application that has a clean install/uninstall process, and is easy to run (and leave running) all day.

Close collaborators can maintain awareness of each other using video snapshots, as well as desktop snapshots (both automagically taken at set intervals), and can communicate with sticky notes and chat items. They can share photos and stuff with each other too.

I should point out that I belong to the lab that created this little app. To be fair, it is a research prototype, but it is quite neat. We all run it in our lab to stay in touch because a few of us telecommute.

Asterisk (2, Interesting)

dpoulson (132871) | more than 11 years ago | (#6730870)

How about setting up an asterisk ( exchange. This way you can also tie it all in with the phone system. Net meeting 4.[67] will work with SIP over the network, and you can use gnophone on the linux side of things. I've not personally tried video with it, but I do use it at home.

VIC + related applications may do what you want. (3, Informative)

David McBride (183571) | more than 11 years ago | (#6730887)

University College London have been developing a number of multimedia applications -- see [] .

The VIC tool, which provides peer-to-peer video streaming via multicast or unicast can be used to transmit video images to others whilst RAT handles the audio side.

It's free, there's source, and it works. We use it here regularly for conference calls with other institutions in the UK and the US.

Swamping staff? Swamping bandwidth more like.. (1)

matt_wilts (249194) | more than 11 years ago | (#6731498)

In the early days of our VC implementation we did some network tests with NetMeeting, and found it was extremely inefficient when it came to transmitting video. Not so much of a problem when it comes to the LAN, but you mention VPN so you must have WAN links too. I think the problem was that the compression algorithms were bad.
It all depends how good an "image" (pun intended) you wish to project. We eventually decided on Polyspan FX and they are superb, but very expensive! I'm currently testing a Polyspan ViaVideo unit and it's not too bad, no zoom or autofocus, but the picture quality is very good, I think because of the hardware compression used and the corresponding drop in the bandwidth usage.

verbiage (1)

jpsst34 (582349) | more than 11 years ago | (#6732081)

" I want people to be able to see and converse with each other at their desks..."

Don't you mean "conversate?"

Polycom (1)

Vardan (172720) | more than 11 years ago | (#6732790)

has a good little product with the ViaVideo [] line. As a bonus, it'll interact with other video conferencing units running H.323

Too bad... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6733948)'re on the wrong platform. Looks like iChat AV [] would be perfect.

flash com server (1)

Toirdhealbhach (699503) | more than 11 years ago | (#6734008)

You might want to check out macromedia's "flash communication server." It's supposedly rather easy to customize and although costs money to buy, will work with any computer with a flash plugin web browser.

Macromedia's product blurb indicates that the product is very capable of multi-way video and stuff.

Why in hell? (1)

aminorex (141494) | more than 11 years ago | (#6735320)

Why in hell would you want video? Whiteboarding
is actually useful. URL sharing (including Real
or divx clips) is cool. But I don't *want* my
boss to know that I'm bonking his secretary.

Re:Why in hell? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6736265)

"But I don't *want* my boss to know that I'm bonking his secretary."

Ahhh, you must be one of those slick cats from Sales rather than one of us pasty dorks from Engineering.

VoIP? (1)

b!arg (622192) | more than 11 years ago | (#6735791)

Let me start off by saying I know virtually nothing about the subject at hand. However, I do know that Cisco has a VoIP system that allows a user to have his or her phone extension no matter where they are in the world so long as they have "their" phone and a VPN connection. Perhaps they have a video phone or something along the same lines? Yeah, this is probably an expensive solution, but if you want robust and not "hacked" I'm sure Cisco can give it to you.

Re:VoIP? (0)

ReluctantBadger (550830) | more than 11 years ago | (#6736291)

"Let me start off by saying I know virtually nothing about the subject at hand."

Well, you've certainly come to the right place! Go Slashdot!

Re:VoIP? (1)

b!arg (622192) | more than 11 years ago | (#6736559)

My thoughts exactly! He's getting what he's paying for...;)

Re:VoIP? (1)

b!arg (622192) | more than 11 years ago | (#6737066)

Perhaps this link [] gives a bit of credibility to my statement.

picking a camera (1)

n8willis (54297) | more than 11 years ago | (#6737865)

Here's my general advice on selecting any kind of imaging equipment -- be it scanner, digital camera, or webcam -- don't do your research on "computer" web sites (and I would include /. in this camp). Do it on photography web sites.

Well, video web sites would probably be good too, I'm just a still image person, so I haven't spent much time looking into video.

You should be concerned with quality when it comes to imagining equipment, and the best judges of image quality are those people whose livlihood depends on it. You'll never see a discussion of a scanner's dynamic range on a computer hardware site.

And you get the beneficial side-effect that a review from non-"hardcore"-tech folks will actually reflect some casual usability, not some hardware junkie's first impressions. Let the end-user be the judge of usability, after all.

A while back I did my own searching around on this webcam question, and the best camera out there was the Kodak DVC325 -- and luckily it was cheap, too. (Actually, the BEST camera was the 3Com Homeconnect, but it had been discontinued).


Re:picking a camera (1)

sg_oneill (159032) | more than 11 years ago | (#6741356)

And I'll go one further if your doing videoconferencing, talk to videoconferencing people, not IT people.

No offence to my own profession, but as someone whos worked in both industries, I can say that most IT people are clueless when it comes to VC applications. "Whatya mean switched ISDN connection? Whats wrong with the intarweb?".

Just an observation.

Flash Based (1)

DJenk47 (212581) | more than 11 years ago | (#6738575)

Have you looked into the Flash Communication Server [] from Macromedia? We use it here at the Univ of Akron for some minor teleconferencing and it works great. Since the Flash player is available for many platforms, it seems to be a good idea. There's no hardware needed except a server to put it on (which right now is Windows only) and mics/cameras for the clients.
The stress on the server with a dozen concurrent video and audio, including some over wireless connections, was negligible. With the computers over 100mbs connection and wireless at 11mbs shared, the video and audio quality was great. Even over dial-up, the quality was impressive.
The FCS comes with sample teleconferencing and whiteboard examples, so you could easily modify it to suit your purposes.

Yahoo! Messenger (1)

tchapin (90910) | more than 11 years ago | (#6740678)

It's kind of lame, since it's limited to 1 frame update a second, but I am getting my group to use Yahoo! messenger. We are finding that the video is best used in conjunction with conference calls, as the audio features provided by Yahoo! suck, I think mostly b/c the mics that people have attached to their computers suck. I have heard that Trillian Pro [] has / will have video conferencing as well, but I haven't tried it.

Xerox research? (1)

Arab (466938) | more than 11 years ago | (#6753696)

I seem to remember Xerox were working on a software system called portholes, you can probably find papers a plenty about it online.

but then you'd have to either contact them to use it or develop your own based on it. They lloked at alot of the issues raised by this type of software like privacy and the like and why it works, it was trans-atlantic too.

the only reason I know about this is because of a HCI module I did at university last year.

Take a close look at (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6759851)

Take a close look at
That software can be used exactly as you describe :-)
There are win/solaris/MacOsX/Red Hat linux versions on the client side ;)

And you can skip the VPN if you like since the communication can be encrypted.

Windows Media Encoder (1)

chocolatetrumpet (73058) | more than 11 years ago | (#6762259)

Sure, it's not exactly "conference" software, but if each person runs it, any other people can view the stream. And it's free, if you just want to give it a try. []

Of course, windows only...
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