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How Conferencing Works

Videoconferencing and Webcasts
A Webcam for a Webcast.
A Webcam for a Webcast.
Photo courtesy

More and more Web conferencing services and software come with the ability to add video from a desktop webcam. This is the simplest form of videoconferencing, where the presenter appears on the screens of all the attendees in a small Webcam video window. For small groups, some software programs offer the "Brady Bunch" effect, in which all of the attendees appear on the screen in separate Webcam windows.

There is a difference, however, between this simple form of videoconferencing and what are known as webcasts. Webcasts are professional-quality online video presentations, usually for larger groups and with less interactivity between participants.

Here's how webcasts work:

  1. Video is shot on a digital video camera and can be either streamed live or recorded and edited for later broadcast.
  2. The video feed needs to be compressed into a digital code such as MPEG, Windows Media or Quicktime.
  3. The compressed signal is then encoded for transmissions and playback over an IP network.
  4. The video is ready to be watched online either as live streaming video or as an on-demand download.

There are a number of companies that offer videoconferencing software and services. Here are some of the more common features:

  • Off-site video compression and delivery
  • Invitation management, attendee polling, follow-up reports
  • Chat and text messaging for question and answer sessions
  • Professional video and editing services

On the webcam level, videoconferencing is useful for giving a face, literally, to a sales presentation or for demonstrating the physical features of a small product. Webcasts are useful for large, company-wide meetings, press conferences and public product announcements.

The chief advantage of videoconferencing is that audiences tend to absorb information better if they are both seeing and hearing it. A disadvantage is that interactivity is severely limited in very large video presentations.

Read on to find out about the future of conferencing.