Looking through the screen
By Vincent Toesca, Group Product Manager, Adobe Connect
Almost a year ago, I was discussing in another blog post the ascent of video as a way to enrich interpersonal communications.
This vision is increasingly becoming reality– at home and in the office. There’s not a day passing by without a new announcement around new video or “HD” capabilities by software vendors. What does it mean exactly for those in charge of selecting conferencing solutions? And how fast and how far will these new advancements reach everyday corporate users?
Removing complexity to drive usage
Videoconferencing has been characterized by complex endpoints and obscure acronyms (ISDN, VNOC, MPLS, QoS etc.) that have deterred quite a lot of casual users. No wonder that the utilization rate of these systems is typically less than 5% on a daily basis (source: Gartner, 2010). They also remain chiefly closed-loop systems, with more than 90% of all videoconferencing taking place among endpoints in the same enterprise But while these paltry numbers would give organizations little incentive to add more cost, risk and complexity to grow their video network, recent trends have marked a shift in the fortunes of videoconferencing.
Increasing reach even more than quality
The focus is moving from pure video quality to user experience, with an emphasis on reach and simplicity. The broader availability of camera-equipped devices and the popularization of online video through consumer services are reshaping the landscape. Here are a few usage and technological factors that are involved in this change:
- Software-based vs room-based: the dichotomy between VTC solutions (an expensive combination of endpoints, room systems, MCUs and services) and software-only video services is dissipating, with a gradual convergence of quality, and a faster expansion of the latter. Meeting attendees who cannot reach a room and who are external to the organizations can participate from desktop- or web-based clients, with quality up to and including HD.
- Quality and bandwidth optimization: new IP video codecs (such as H.264) have dramatically improved video quality, without increasing bandwidth consumption. That is a prerequisite for IT departments, still wary of potential bandwidth overuse on their network. They also enable an experience that is rich and lifelike enough to endear end-users, who expect the fidelity of what they receive and broadcast to be high-quality and compelling.
- Streaming and delivery: videoconferencing has moved almost completely to IP; all new video endpoints are IP-capable. But the coexistence of different protocols for establishing sessions (H.323, SIP), and the disparities in how well they allow video streams to traverse network firewalls, proxies and NAT, have constrained most organizations to use videoconferencing only internally. This is changing with the standardization on more firewall-friendly technologies, such a SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), and the delivery of new video services over managed networks and using SIP trunks.
Fulfilling promises for end-users and administrators alike
With our new Adobe Connect 8 release (now generally available), we have put a specific emphasis on high-quality, hassle-free visual communications. Being the first webconferencing solution offering robust video capabilities, our product had set the pace for bringing new digital experiences and interactions to enterprise customers.
- Deliver from multiple sources: a key new feature of Adobe Connect 8 is the ability to acquire a video stream from a SIP-based room system and broadcast it to all meeting participants present in an Adobe Connect room. Individual participants can also broadcast their own video feed, captured from a webcam. This truly achieves the converge of video streams into one single software-based solution, delivered at an infinitesimal cost over existing network infrastructures.
- Deliver across screens: Adobe Connect delivers rich video features based on benchmarks set by the conferencing industry. The next challenge will be to optimize the video quality and resolution based on the properties of the receiving devices and increase video portability. Beyond conventional desktops, the fast-growing penetration of smartphones and tablets with new form factors (e.g. front-facing cameras) and smaller footprint will drive this requirement. Adobe Connect has already embraced the need for accessing conferencing across screens, with mobile versions running on Google Android and Apple iOS; and other platforms are planned for the future.
- Deliver across network boundaries: here comes the foundational advantage of Adobe Connect, with the pervasive and firewall-friendly Adobe Flash platform. Battle-tested in the Internet space, where it supports about 80% of online videos, Adobe Flash provides a delivery mechanism that overcomes a lot of network barriers and improves the prospects for external calling.
I once heard a senior executive joking about a telepresence meeting he had to attend: he spent over one hour driving to the venue where the telepresence meeting was hosted. It was probably better than physically flying to the other coast for the meeting, but it certainly fell short of eliminating travel costs and travel time. With Adobe Connect 8 and its future iterations, we’re striving to enable a cost-efficient and user-friendly experience for video, universally delivered thanks to Adobe Flash.