Online Hosted Web-conferencing or a Full HD Video Conference System?
How Do You Choose?
By Julie Coontz
On several occasions I've been asked by buyers, retailers, corporations and schools alike, what are the major differences between an entry-level video conference solution offered by a company like Polycom, and a video conference system offered by an online hosting company such as Webex? The truth is fairly basic, but many people would argue, and be right, you are not comparing apples to apples. So in an apples to oranges comparison, here it is in a "Layman's terms" nutshell.
For our purposes we are going to assume our "client" who wishes to buy video conferencing equipment or an online solution is a company that holds a live video conference anywhere from five to eight times a month, with no more than four locations participating.
They need to consider video conferencing equipment prices and other benefits/drawbacks such as follows: difficulty of use, # of participants allowed, data-sharing (screen-sharing), video-capture, bandwidth requirements vs. type of internet line, and audio/video quality.
Let's start with an online video conference solution such as Webex. While video conferencing services such as Webex are seemingly the least expensive option at anywhere from $25-50/month, it is not a complete video conferencing system. You get definite benefits such as the ability to have 5 people connect together on one call, no video conference codec to maintain and the ease of sharing data by sharing your various desktops back and forth so all viewers can see all information at any given time. For some users, this may fit their bill and provide cheap video conferencing extremely well!
What you do not get with a web-hosted solution is the hardware you need: video conference camera, microphone, your monitor and your computer. Depending upon the rate of speed of your internet provider, the quality of images and information can vary greatly and are generally acceptable or marginal at best, certainly not high definition. By the time you add in the necessary IP video conferencing requirements to get a decent quality picture and have the multimedia conferencing system you need, your cost of video conference equipment over a three-year period is really more in the neighborhood of $85/month. And keep in mind, most online providers don't offer a lot of help in getting you to the right video conference microphone vs. audio conference microphone etc. so be prepared to invest some time!
One last thing to consider is the other joiners of your Webex or hosted online meeting may all have different types of internet services and lines, so what you are showing on your computer in a "cheap video conference" may take several seconds to appear on their screen.
On the flip side, many look at the cost of buying an actual High Definition Video Conference System and are immediately off-put by the price-tag. Fortunately, in the last two years in particular, we've seen a great deal of relief there, though many video conference manufacturers still cannot compare with the likes of Webex on a pricing scale alone.
Certain manufacturers such as Sony, Lifesize, Polycom, Kedacom and most recently Panasonic, have been turning that tide. For any business-critical meeting where excellent high resolution, call-speed and true-to-life conference presence are needed, there is no online match for an actual High Definition Video Conferencing System. The visual clarity, ability to hear multiple speakers seamlessly and overall quality of the call are unparalleled by an online solution. Hardware manufacturers such as Polycom offer a hardware-based system that connects to other hardware-based systems. To choose this route means you are investing in a system of communication that is dependent on that hardware. You have the ability to generate and enjoy high quality video and audio conferencing fairly easily because you have invested in high quality conferencing equipment.
This type of video conferencing is meant to be a true replacement for in-person meetings, so you have the added benefit of seeing facial expressions, hand gestures, etc. that you would most certainly miss on an option such as Webex. While Polycom, Lifesize, Sony and Tandberg are all excellent manufacturers of such systems, Panasonic has become the forerunning leader of such video conferencing equipment, and is setting the standard for this excellence.
At the end of the day, deciding what your motivation is for choosing one type of video conference system over the other is the most important. Also, know that many video conference retailers, such as Clary Business Machines, offer programs for 0% financing and rates as low as $65/month with no money down to own a High Definition Video Conference system, so the choices become even more appealing!