Communicating with others through computers used to be the stuff of science fiction. Today it's a reality.
With today's technology, people can make face-to-face connections via computers whether they're located in the next office building or across the globe.
Today more than ever, businesses are relying on Web conferences and Web seminars, called Webinars, as an economic and convenient communication solution. As technology becomes more affordable, more businesses are opting for these events over the high cost of business travel.
Instead of the expense and inconvenience of gathering a large group of people into an auditorium for a large presentation, now everyone can get together via a Webinar where participants simultaneously listen to speakers via computers. For smaller groups, real-time interaction between participants is available.
Webinars are a great and cost-efficient way to communicate with sales staff, shareholders, outside technicians and others over the Web. It eliminates the need for expensive travel arrangements and auditorium setup costs. Salespeople can use Webinars to connect with potential customers [source: Business.com].
Business managers have created innovative ways to use Web conferencing and Webinars for marketing new products and sales meetings. Companies can Web conference with other branches, offices or individual employees [source: AskMen.com].
To create a successful video Web event today, little more is needed than a computer, a Web camera (Webcam) and an Internet connection. Costs and complexity vary depending on conference requirements.
Holding a virtual meeting allows participants to exchange documents and work on a "whiteboard" where pictures, files and graphics can be downloaded [source: Computer Science at Columbia University].
In this article, we're going to talk about the technical requirements for video Web events along with how to plan and set up video Web events.
Technical Requirements for Video Web Events
There are three ways to set up Web conferences or Webinars: computer-based, desktop or a studio system.
The least expensive is the computer-based system which uses a computer, Webcam and free software like NetMeeting, Microsoft or similar products, and a coder/decoder (CODEC) card [source: AskMen.com].
If your computer doesn't have a built-in camera , you'll need an H320 standard camera such as a Logitech QuickCam. H320 is a telecommunications industry standard for videoconferencing that allows communication over ISDN (integrated digital services network) [source: PC Magazine]. It's easy to connect the camera into the computer's USB port and install the program software into your hard drive.
A desktop system is a step up from the computer-based system in that dedicated hardware is installed onto the computer. This allows for improved audio and video transmissions over the computer-based system.
To use either system, your computer will need a network card as well as a camera, microphone and speakers.
Be prepared to sacrifice quality if you're using Webcams and free software. The resolution with these systems is quite often poor and the frame rate is only one frame per second. Using a desktop system with the accompanying software will give better quality with frame speeds of up to 30 frames per second. Regardless of which system is used, there are transmission delays of about one second during the communication [source: AskMen.com].
Offering the best quality, but also the most expensive, are the studio-based systems in which a room is supplied with document viewers, overhead cameras, slide viewers, control systems and vision switchers. These systems are usually used by large companies or universities [source: AskMen.com].
There are two choices for connecting to the Internet. ISDN connections use telephone networks for data transmissions. Internet Protocol (IP) connections use the Internet.
ISDN connections provide a consistent bandwidth level during the call. The connection isn't affected by restrictive firewall settings that can affect IP transmissions. ISDN's are best suited for group video systems that are set up in conference rooms with outside locations.
IP-based conferences use an Ethernet connection. Calls can be made from the public Internet or by using a service provider network and dedicated T-1 lines. IP systems can experience delays if the network is congested, particularly if over the public Internet. Corporate firewalls may block data coming in our out of the local area network [source: NetworkWorld].
On the next page, we'll talk about setting up a video Web event.
Setting Up a Video Web Event
Setting up a successful Web conference or Webinar requires certain criteria such as ensuring that participants have the same equipment and software as the host. Participants need to be notified of the correct date and time.
Prior to beginning the Web conference, it's a good idea to test the system, lighting and microphone location [source: AskMen.com]. You'll need a network card, camera, microphone and external speakers if using a computer-based or desktop system.
One of the most important things for any system is a coder/decoder (CODEC), which compresses and transmits audio and video signals to recipients. Some CODECs are stand-alone units and are used in studio-based systems. Less expensive video boards plug into your computer. Experts recommend that a specialist make the installation [source: AskMen.com].
Software that'll improve the transmission, such as SightSpeed and Access Grid, will improve image quality by removing unimportant information.
If you have control over equipment and network types at both ends of the connections, Web conferencing should be easy. If there are different network sites or service providers, it may be necessary to work with a Web conference provider such as Premiere Global or WebEx that offers network bridges to translate ISDN and IP calls [source: WireOne].
A multipoint control unit (MCU) will be needed to combine incoming calls from different locations into a single conference.
Some tips for successfully conducting a Web event include:
- installing an extra monitor so participants can see themselves
- using the mute button when not speaking to avoid echo
- redialing or rebooting the system to adjust the conference quality
- keeping spare batteries on hand
When speaking to others during a Web conference, always look into the camera and speak clearly and slowly. Before responding to a comment, pause briefly and limit any background movement [source: AskMen.com].
For the conference, dress carefully, wearing clothing appropriate for the event. When selling an idea, experts recommend leaning in towards the camera. Sit straight and still in the conference chair -- don't slouch or move around in the chair.
If you're nervous about the prospect of appearing on screen, experts say it's a good idea to practice with a friend or colleague, or make a video at home and review it [source: CareerJournal.com].
Security is an important factor in Web events. Financial, health and other sensitive information will be shared over the Internet, for example, and security measures are important.
Information is stored temporarily on a shared Internet server while a Web conference is in progress. To protect that information, using a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is vital. SSLs encrypt information so it won't be readable to anyone other than the targeted audience by moving the information alternatively from the conference host computer to participants' computers.
Many software companies, such as WebEx, Cisco and Premiere Global provide security options for users. At the site level, managers can issue passwords and usernames to invitees to control security.
On the next page, we'll talk about connecting into video Web conferences.
Video Web Event Connections
There are four ways to connect over the Internet to conduct a Web conference: dial-up service via existing telephone lines, a digital subscriber line (DSL), cable DSL and satellite. To have a successful Web event, the proper Internet speed is required or your content will take a long time to load at the recipient's site.
For short-distance conferencing, dial-up connections may work well. Depending on the recipients' locations, dial-up connections may not support videos. The connections are slower and tie up your existing phones lines, however, it can still support multiple users simultaneously using just one phone line. Some dial-up ISP providers can provide content compression and page caching to increase the speed [source: TopTenReviews].
Digital subscriber line, or DSL, is a good choice as it offers Internet speeds five to 50 times faster than dial-up. DSL works with existing telephone lines. DSL uses a dedicated phone line, which only needs a router, a filter, a modem for each system, and a box that translates sent and received data. Most phone companies offer DSL connections. To use DSL, you need to be within the phone company's service area as the transmission frequencies deteriorate over a short distance. Some dial-up ISPS offer accelerators to increase the speed of the transmission [source: TopTenReviews].
Another choice is a cable DSL, provided by an Internet cable provider. A modem is required which can be rented or purchased. While it's considered the fastest of all connections, its speed can be affected by the number of area users connected simultaneously. Advantages include a fast connection. Cable DSL is always on as there's no need to wait for a dial-up. The phone and Internet can be used simultaneously [source: TopTenReviews].
Satellite conferencing provides the best image quality -- comparable to television images. It's most cost-effective when used with large events in a presentation-type format, such as Webinars, because of the single broadcast location. It costs more to broadcast the signal than to receive it so setting the host location is an important consideration [source: TKO Video Communications]. An Internet satellite dish and satellite modem are required. Reliant on weather elements, satellite can be unreliable, but it's 10 times faster than dial-up.
On the next page, we'll talk about businesses that use video Web conferencing along with future developments.
Businesses that Utilize Video Web Events
Businesses both large and small have found video Web conferences and Web seminars to be an economical way to conduct business meetings.
Web conferencing users find them helpful for employee training, marketing to potential customers along with general business discussions from the comfort of one's own office.
Avtex, Inc., a Minnesota-based company providing business process applications, expected to save $50,000 annually in travel costs alone by relying on Web conferencing through Microsoft's Office Live Meeting system. Avtex uses Web conferencing to provide support services with with its 650 customers worldwide and for team meetings and training sessions. Founded in 1971, the company started with 50 employees and now has 100 employees working in offices in four states [source: Microsoft].
Pharmacia, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies, has 60,000 employees in 60 countries. It depends on Web conferencing to stay connected [source: ITWorld]. When the company opened its new headquarters in Peapack, N.J., it was equipped with 56 conference rooms outfitted for video conferencing. In total, there are 300 company-wide, video-equipped meeting rooms.
With businesses having a more global face, video Web conferencing provides a way for colleagues to stay connected -- even while at different offices. What does the future hold for Web conferencing and Webinars? Experts predict current abilities are just the tip of the video event iceberg.
Technological advances, such as affordable, plug-and-play video conferencing units, have already allowed for easier wiring of personal computers for sight and sound.
On the horizon is video instant messaging, which has already been integrated into Microsoft's Windows XP operating systems. Instant messages with video screens that are activated any time the computer is turned on will replace today's pop-up windows with only text displayed [source: NetworkWorld].
Only time will tell what video conferencing will look like in the future.
For lots more information on video Web conferencing and related topics, check out the links on the next page.