How video functionality weighs into our ranking

Video has been in use privately for quite some time but has been ridiculously slow in regards of becoming really useful for business online collaboration. Now that an increasing number of employees who need to attend or host online meetings either have a mobile computing device with a built-in camera or an external webcam plugged in, web conferencing vendors feel the time has come to integrate video into their solutions. And since internet connections are getting faster and faster why not go to HD while they are at it?

Now where does this leave us and our ranking of online meeting tools? Well, first of all there will be no shift of focus. We will not rank a tool higher just because it makes it possible for you to wave into a camera. The focus will remain on functionalities that enable and/or enhance online collaboration. Desktop screen sharing and the document- and information-centric joint working with applications really is the key to all online collaboration technologies.

So far we had only figured in video at the margin, giving a tool a minor increase in overall score if it enabled video. But this yes/no logic really does not reflect this specific functionality well enough anymore. If a vendor offers video in his software we want to know the following:

  • Can you scale the videos? It is really annoying if you have huge heads staring at you while you try to read text on a presentation that is displayed in a corner of the screen. Users should be able to move cameras and re-size them to their liking.
  • How does a tool handle the enormous amount of data being streamed? The software must be backed up by a powerful server infrastructure that can handle all data upstreams and downstreams. Regardless of the number of participants or the single participants’ internet connection the tool must deliver video without compromising the overall quality of the online meeting.
  • Are voice and video connected? If two or three people are in a conference it is fairly easy to identify the speaker. But if you have six participants in a conference and are discussing a document that is being displayed you do not want to be stuck having to check whose lips are moving. So the current speaker should be highlighted by the tool.
  • Are voice and video not only connected but in sync? You don’t want to be talking and see that on the screen your lips are moving a second later than when you are actually forming the words.

We will consider these options – and potentially more we might consider useful – in our future tests and make sure that video has a greater influence on overall score than it currently has. Video can really enhance an online meeting if it is integrated into the software wisely. Video functionality must seamlessly fit into the tool and really offer the users an additional advantage. It is all about user friendliness and if video doesn’t enhance the usability of a web conferencing solution it shouldn’t be integrated in the first place.

Video is becoming an integral part of web conferencing solutions

We at Online Meeting Tools Review have treated video conferencing as a side aspect so far. But there currently is a trend in the online collaboration market to include high quality video into well structured web conferencing tools, opening up many new possibilities for holding online meetings.

Until recently video was basically being used in businesses for the following two scenarios:

Scenario 1: Many larger companies had proprietary high-end conferencing systems installed in dedicated meeting rooms, based on the technology provided by Cisco, Polycom, Tandberg and the likes. These served as a somewhat expensive toy in C-Level meetings spread over various locations and even continents.

Scenario 2: Teams spread over different locations make use of low-end solutions. There are basically two ways for teams to collaborate using video conferencing technology:

  1. Freeware such as Skype and now also Google+ hangouts are an easy way to connect. The only requirement is that all participants need to have an account for the respective platform before they can start a video conference. With Skype users get some web conferencing functionalities as the tool allows e.g. screen sharing. However, many organizations prohibit users from using tools like Skype, due to security concerns.
  2. Apple and Microsoft make it possible: Teams can also collaborate via tools that are tied to the respective OS or vendor-based server technologies, such as Apple’s iChat and Microsoft’s Lync and OCS (Office Communication Server). These do work pretty well for video conferencing, however typically only within the organization’s firewall.

Another general restriction to video conferencing used to be the relatively low number of users with webcams. This is becoming less of an issue due to huge increases in mobile devices which usually feature a built-in webcam of some sorts and of course cheap external devices that can be used via plug and play. Privately these have been used for quite some time now and web conferencing vendors are now feeling conditions have changed sufficiently for them to integrate video into their solutions and actually offer customers additional value by doing so.

So with business users having their webcams in place, strong enough internet connections to actually allow HD (High Definition) video streaming it seems that conditions are near perfect for web conferencing vendors to integrate video into their tools. We will give you our take on this trend shortly and we’ll let you know how we will be figuring video functionality into our overall ranking.

Are you currently using a video conferencing solution on a regular basis for business purposes? If so just leave a comment and let us know what solution you are using and how that is working out for you.

IBM LotusLive Meeting – formerly IBM SameTime Unyte Meeting – is now in our ranking

Previously we had included IBM Sametime Unyte Share in our ranking. Since this software does not match all of our criteria for evaluation we have removed it. At the same time we re-evaluated IBM SameTime Unyte Meeting which is now called IBM LotusLive Meeting. The tool showed a solid performance during our tests. The integrated webcam functionality caught our eye, as well as the fact that only the current presenter’s webcam can be displayed.

You can find all other details about the tool here.