VUC Video Calls: A Two Act Play

As many of you may know I’ve been trying to put together a video call for the VUC over the past few months. After a lot of thought, but little action, act one of this little project will get underway this coming Friday, August 13th at 1pm EDT.

The basic idea for the project has been with me for a year, ever since I trialed the Polycom VVX-1500 video phones last summer. It evolved as I was later asked to research video conferencing systems for my employer, a project which was eventually tabled in Q4/09.

There are quite a number of factors to consider when you’re thinking about implementing a video conference solution. At its most basic I needed in some substantive way to grasp the difference between one-to-one video calling using desk phone, traditional video conferencing and “Telepresence.”

In truth, there is a lot of detail in all of this. Many questions arise immediately;

  • Will it be used between fixed company locations?
  • What kind of bandwidth do you have available?
  • Will the calls be point-to-point or multi-point?
  • Will there be a requirement for nomadic or SOHO user access?
  • Do you require a soft client for laptop based users?
  • Are there possible NAT traversal issues?
  • Do you have control of QoS ?
  • Will you refit existing conference rooms or build new facilities?
  • Do you need HD or will something less suffice?
  • Do you need desktop sharing?
  • Do you need dual or even multiple monitors?
  • What’s the difference be

There are also some interesting recent developments that impact this train of thought. For example, if you need is for primarily one-to-one video calling can you effectively leverage Skype-For-TV as recently implemented by LG, Samsung and Panasonic? How does that impact the low-end of the hardware end-point market, if at all?

In some way a lot of these questions apply just to arranging these VUC calls. The amount of detail involved and the number of decisions that needed to be made lead me to believe that the best thing to do was not get it all done in the background. That would be keeping a lot of the detail to myself. Instead, I’ve decided to arrange two video calls, the first of which happens to be Friday, August 13th at 1pm EDT.

This first call will focus on the state of desktop video phones and related conference services. Since Polycom has been supportive of VUC in the past I approached them about getting the loan of a couple of the shiny new VVX-1500 video phones. This would give Randy and myself end-points that are known to be supported by Blink Mind, whose VP Engineering, Chris Veazey will be amongst our guests.

The decision to use the VVX devices implies that we’ll have a low-resolution (CIF) format call this first time out. That’s the best that these devices can handle. However, I feel that it will give us some basis for establishing the practical value of one-to-one video calling using a modest amount of bandwidth.

The modest bandwidth requirement and the timing of the call were selected to ensure that Randy would be able to participate while still vacationing in California.

Act two in this little experiment will be a second call, hopefully some time in September. That call will be conducted in high-definition, most likely 720p (1280×720 pixels) This implies much higher bandwidth needs, likely around 1 mbps in each direction.

Few of the details of this second call have yet been considered. The idea is to compare the experience of the two calls and, in so doing, develop a better appreciation for where HD conferencing or one-on-one video calling has advantages over less demanding CIF or VGA implementations. There may well be cases where the extra resource of HD is unwarranted, and yet other situations where it’s absolutely essential.

This is very much like how we came to experience wideband telephony via ZipDX. We staged an experimental call…and the rest evolved from that point. I don’t envision that we’ll be using video for VUC calls as a matter of routine, but it seems like something interesting to try at least once or twice.

I’d also like to thank Blink Mind and Polycom for providing the resources to make this possible.