by March 14, 2002 0 comments

Video conferencing can be done using a desktop computer or by using independent units. So the cost for a professional solution can be from a few lakh rupees to Rs 50—60 lakh, depending upon the setup. Some of the players selling their solutions include Tata Telecom, Visionaire India and Godrej Prima. Their solutions range from desktop video cameras to end-station units, multi-conferencing units and even gateways.

This camera is meant for desktop video conferencing, and complies with the H.323 standard, meaning it will work on any IP-based network. It can therefore be used on an office network or the Internet. For the latter, you need sufficient bandwidth to get the best results from it. Its manual specifies this as 32 kbps or above, but what’s actually needed is at least 128 kbps to get workable quality

Polycom ViaVideo

Price: Between Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 (depending on import duties) + taxes
Meant for: Destkop video-conferencing system for corporates
Features: Philips TriMedia 1300 processor and other requisite CODEC hardware built-in, H.323 standard compliant, USB
Pros: Simple to install and use, good audio/video synchronization and quality, Manual connect speed selection
Contact: Tata Telecom, Gurgaon.
Tel: 0124-6560500

The beauty of the system is its ease of installation, minimal configuration requirements and user-friendly operation. A first look at the device gives the impression of a regular webcam, but there is much more hardware inside! It has signal processing and memory hardware to capture and encode the video. It uses its own processor, namely the Philips TriMedia 1300, which takes the entire processing load off your PC. A webcam on the other hand, is just a video interface to the PC, and takes all the processing power from the PC. The ViaVideo does not use anything else from your PC except your network/Internet connection and some bit of resources to support the interface to the conference.

The camera has a slider on the front near the lens aperture, which doubles as a power switch, and for closing its shutter. A blinking LED shows the camera’s status (‘software not running’, ‘ready’ or ‘in call’). Plus, it has a focus wheel and a powerful microphone, which connects to your sound card’s mic-in socket through the supplied cable. It connects to a PC through USB, and draws its power from a separate 7.5-12 V DC power adapter. The camera’s software has to be installed before hooking it to the system.

Visionaire’s end-station can directly hook on to an ISDN line

The installation is straightforward and runs on Windows 98/2000/Me. It also needs DirectX 7.0 or above, MS NetMeeting and ODBC support and will install them if not already present. If you use it on the Internet, you can register it with an ILS (Internet Locator Service) server or the PolyCom Global Address Book server. Other users can use this address book to call you. The software also calibrates the camera for the ambient light conditions after half an hour of operation.

We tested the camera on our local 10/100 Mbps LAN. It can connect to the remote host either manually using an IP-address or by using the global/local address book. A neat feature of its dial-pad let’s you select the connect speed in kbps. This can be useful if you’re connecting over limited bandwidth. A 64 kbps connect gave us acceptable audio quality but very pixilated and jerky video. At 128 Kbps, however, the audio was completely break-free and the video resolution improved. However, the picture became jerky at the receiver’s end if there were rapid movements in front of the camera. Finally at 384 kbps, both audio and video were smooth and of good quality. Another good thing we noted was that the audio and video were in complete synchronization with each other during all calls. Once a call goes through and connection established, the experience is very much like a videophone. A docked GUI that looks like a TV remote lets you control the speaker volume, remote microphone gain, PIP option and snapshot button.

More from Tata Telecom
Besides the ViaVideo camera, the company also deals in PolyCom end-station units and MCUs from Lucent Technologies. The end-station units’ range, known as the ViewStation range, has several models, differing in various factors like the bandwidth support, standards, etc. For instance, there are end-stations that support H.323 standard, and are therefore suited for use within a network over IP. The ViewStation 4000 is a rack-mountable video conferencing codec, which can be used over an IP based network or ISDN. It supports multi-point conferencing of up to four sites, and can connect multiple monitors and microphones if need be, as in large meeting rooms. It supports voice-activated switching, and chair control, which moves to camera to quickly move to multiple speakers in a meeting room. There are about eight different ViewStation models, the cost for which ranges between Rs 3-12 lakh per unit. The MCU consists of a H.323 and H.320 gateway to convert internal IP based calls to ISDN. The MCU consists of a base unit, and the ports. The base unit costs Rs 15-17 lakh, which comes with a few ports. Additional ports cost between Rs 3 to 5

Anyone dialing to you can be prompted for a password

From Visionaire
The most popular product from Visionaire is the AVCS 384 PRO video-conferencing end-station unit, which costs Rs 393,000. It’s H.320 compliant, and will therefore directly hook onto an ISDN line. It supports up to 3 BRI, which basically means a 384 kbps connect. Other products include a PCS 1600P, which is an entry-level system, AVCS 4500, and PCS 6000P on the higher-end.

Video-conferencing Software
Here’s some video conferencing software, which we have put in the CD with this issue.

This is a desktop vide-conferencing application that allows text, voice and video over IP networks–LAN or the Internet. You just need to select the appropriate bandwidth that is available. So, LAN would configure the application to produce better quality video and frame rates. The program also has sound alerts (akin to Instant Messengers) to warn you of incoming calls, outgoing calls and the like. A ‘Statistics window’ allows you to view the data transmission and receiving statistics.

And just to prevent anybody from directly connecting to your transmission, you can specify a password for connections. Anyone dialing to you then will be prompted to enter a password. The application uses TCP ports 1225 and 1227 for connections. So make sure that your corporate firewall lets them through.

Iris has a whiteboard feature

C U See Me
This is another video-conferencing software that works over IP and also does NETBIOS name resolution. If you also have its application’s Conference Server, you can use it on a network to have group chat/conferencing. The software keeps track of clients by means of their e-mail id or even phone numbers (a Gatekeeper). ‘Blocking users’ is a chat option that is also present in the application. Thus you have access control. For the connections, you can specify the connection speed that you want. Additionally, you can fine tune audio and video encoding parameters based on the encoding algorithms. By default, you will never need to fiddle with them.

Iris is a one-to-many kind of video conferencing application, which is identical to regular chatting in MSN Messenger. Adding video element to the same concept, a user can have video chat sessions with multiple users at the same time. However, no cross talk is possible between the users themselves. This again works over IP and also stores an address book locally to map names to IPs. Unlike the other software that we talk of here, Iris also supports whiteboarding. It also archives conversation sessions (text, whiteboard and even video) using its ‘Store’ option. For preventing eavesdropping on transmissions, Iris can encrypt the video and audio data, which will only be shown if the receiver has the key.

Eyeball is a concept similar to most instant messaging software. So it allows text, voice and video like Yahoo Messenger for instance. To use it, you need an eyeball identity, which is a registered user ID. It’s a Universal IM allowing you to log on to AOL, MSN and Yahoo messaging networks. It even alerts you if you receive a new mail in any account. Desktop video conferencing with other users can be done using a web cam. However, if you are behind a firewall/ proxy, you may not be able to use it because it has no network settings option and just uses your default gateway. All conference connections are through the Eyeball Internet server.

Ankur Saxena and Ashish Sharma

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