Video conferencing infrastructure consists of a variety of elements. The following article describes the essential components and some important selection criteria.
Video cameras are the defining element of the visual quality of your video conferencing solution. They differ fundamentally depending on the application, room size or number of participants per room.
Consider whether you need fixed or pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras that track the speaker automatically, zoom in on his face, or film a large auditorium. Or do you want a mobile camera for e.g. manual video inspection of objects, in order to show some details?
Should your camera also record and forward sounds? Then you need at least a built-in or external microphone, for large conference rooms maybe even a second. Also, ask if audio is streamed via the same interface like video to your video conferencing solution?
You may find questions about optics as well as audio and video coding technologies in other blog posts.
Prefer IP-based digital cameras over proprietary digital or analog cameras. Pay attention to the power supply. Many cameras can be powered externally via Power over Ethernet (PoE).
Telephone Sets for Conferences
Many solutions integrate standard telephones (analog, digital, IP) and mobile phones (especially smartphones) directly or via adapters.
Special Devices, Spider Phones
Are special telephone sets (today mostly IP hardphones), which are integrated directly into the conference solution. They record tones with several microphones from all directions with very good quality. Mechanically, several types are available (e.g., spider phones, or mobile devices with a central speaker). Some of the specialized devices have large touch-sensitive color displays.
Depending on the application, different characteristics of displays are required. As they are mostly used in daylight pay attention to brightness and contrast. Size and resolution (today up to 4k or 8k) are dependent on the distance, from which users look at the display.
For special use cases, multi-screen displays are of interest (for example, in large-scale applications, monitoring stations or operations centers). How do you want to mount the displays? Do you need the mobility of a swivel arm or a fixed overhead mounting? Or do you generally need a mobile monitor? How long should the operation of the display per day last? How can the generated waste heat be deduced? What interfaces are required? Do you need a direct IP network connection, a digital video interface, a USB port or a traditional serial interface? Should the surface be touch-sensitive, to select menus or draw on the display directly (whiteboard)?
Especially in conferencing solutions with very large screens for displaying several conference partners in a row (so-called telepresence solutions) additional furniture (tables) are used. Conference participants may sit down and see their counterparts in life-size much like in a real face-to-face meeting.
Depending on the solution, additional software may be required in the terminals to provide conference services. After installing these apps, the desktop computer or notebook can join a conference.
Apps are also available for displays, e.g. to display start screens, to show speaking times, or simply to configure the displays, select signal sources, and more.
More and more solutions support the standard WebRTC, which allows the participation in conferences via the web browser. Installation of additional software is eliminated.
Provides conference services for voice, video, and team collaboration. Available as an on-premise, hybrid or cloud solution.
The server supports point-to-point and multipoint connections between terminals in different locations. Ask for the types of terminals supported and how to interconnect them.
The implementation of a server ranges from hardware-based appliances via virtualized solutions to cloud services.
You may need to record conferences. Ask what information can be recorded, e.g. audio, or audio plus video, data sharing, chats, etc. Think of combined recording of different information flows (channels), e.g. at seminars or lectures. Define how you want to use the records later to use the solution for the long term.
Many users of your own company and external partners should participate in video conferences? Ask for systems or services that centrally monitor and control users’ access. If you need Virtual Private Network (VPN) sessions over IP networks, you may need additional VPN-enabled clients and security systems (such as a firewall or VPN gateway).
Will your existing security systems protect your video conferencing infrastructure and services sufficiently? Are any updates or upgrades required? Special Session Border Controllers (SBCs) or proxy systems help to secure your video conferencing solution and block unauthorized communication or attacks. Ask for features to protect signaling and media streams.
Interconnect video conferencing users to social network users and unified communications services (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Skype for Business, and other unified communications systems).
Do you run multiple video conferencing systems or video conferencing terminals? Are these additionally distributed over many locations? Then you need a management system that helps you centrally configure your video conferencing solution elements, keep your device software up-to-date, or update user data. Separate or integrated tools help you find and fix errors locally or remotely. Analysis tools provide you with information about system utilization, bandwidth requirements, availability of services, interfaces, and systems.
Tip: For each element or service, ensure uniform and consistent support of protocols, coding technologies, and image resolutions.
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About the author
Ronald Schlager is an independent trainer, consultant, book author and blogger with an emphasis on communications technologies and their application.
Image source: pixabay.com, jraffin