Video Conferencing is full-motion live video transmission which can be a one way broadcast from a single site to multiple remote sites, or a two way interactive broadcast (Dewey, 1993). Additionally, a video conference can consist of a one way broadcast with a two way audio capability. Video Conferencing technology has typically been expensive and cumbersome for most organizations, and it does require physical space to house the sophisticated transmission equipment, however, recent technological developments are making this option more attractive (Dewey, 1993).
Although it is common to hear videoconferencing referred to as technology, it is not technology, rather, it is a collection of technologies that form the foundation for a wide variety of applications (Wilcox, 2000). The term video conferencing refers to these applications and, to a lesser degree, the technologies that support them. Video conferencing comes in the two Latin words videri meaning ‘I see’ and conferre which means, ‘to bring together’ (Wilcox, 2000). Video conferencing unites meeting participants such that they can share visual information overcoming distance as a barrier to collaborative work.
The combinations of the word videri and audio give us the word video which is defined as the system that records and transmits visual information by conveying that information using electrical signals, although the term video in its strictest sense refers only to images, common vernacular reflects the assumption that audio is synchronized with these images (Wilcox, 2000). According to Wilcox, videoconferencing is defined as an exchange of digitized video images and sounds between conference participants at two or more separate sites.
The transferred images may be pictures of the participants themselves, but they may also include video clips or other material such as still pictures of objects or information that is stored on a computer, likewise the sounds that are conveyed between a sites in a videoconference could be discussions between meeting participants in different sites, but they could also be in any other form of digitized audio that is, in some manner synchronized with the video.
One can apply video conferencing to coalesce separate gatherings of individuals into a single multi-site meeting. They can also link two people through dissimilar personal computers, videophones, or other intelligent devices. Both group-system-based and personal videoconferences can take place as point-to-point or multipoint events, and the device that links three or more locations in a single conference I called a multi-point control unit (MCU).
One of the stimulants to the videoconferencing market has been the adoption of widely accepted interoperability standards (Wilcox, 2000). Until recently, construction of a video conference always required all participants to use the same manufacturer’s equipment, and to connect by a compatible network, and standards are easing these restrictions, and soon they will eliminate them. Arranging a videoconference will be much like sending a fax and all one has to know is the address.
Picture phone was a personal conferencing tool, and in 1970s, attention shifted to a different implementation of audio visual conferencing technologies that could be used by a group, with Nippon Electric Corporation (NEC) becoming the first company in the world to produce a group-oriented videoconferencing system (Wilcox, 2000). The efforts to render these first videoconferencing public rooms operational paved the way for the video conferencing interoperability standards that exist today.
The codec is the heart of a videoconferencing system, a codec adapts audiovisual signals to the requirements of the digital networks that transport them, and as the term implies compression/decompression and coding/decoding are the four most important jobs (Wilcox, 2000). A codec must first turn analog signals into a continuous stream of zeroes and ones (coding/digitizing), and then select only the bits necessary to send meaningful audio and video information (compression).
According to a 1991 article in Chronicle of Higher Education, fully equipped conference rooms, costing about $125,000 in the late 1980s, can now be assembled for about $50,000, and equipment for this new generation of interactive video conferencing technology only includes two monitors with compression devices, an audio system two cameras, graphic stand, and a personal computer withy interactive graphics for two different sites (Dewey, 1993).
Today, a codec just as powerful as a good 1980 model (which require a refrigerator-sized cabinet) can be implemented in software only, and this software-based codecs are being packed as enhancements to high-end personal computers which are based on standards, which thereby pave the way for any-to-any communications, regardless of the platform on which they run (Wilcox, 2000). Video conferencing for international meetings is becoming increasingly popular as companies seek alternatives to costly, time consuming or convenient business travel, like for instance, during the Gulf War, video conferencing increased dramatically.
The ability to connect several offices at one time and receive and send documents via a scanner connected to the system has added to the practicality. After a slow part in the 1980s, video communication has gained a broad support, Videoconferencing is an invaluable human resource management tool, which fosters collaboration, increases scheduling flexibility, shortens response times, and provides access to specialist and experts (Wilcox, 2000).
Manufacturing companies leverage it for comprehensive quality assurance and real time process and equipment monitoring, while health care providers employ videoconferencing to enhance continuity of care, and legal teams use it to standardize and, therefore, streamline casework (Wilcox, 2000). As a result of dramatic declines in network and equipment costs, cultural changes, and standardization, videoconferencing is solving a wide range of business problems.
According to Wilcox, advances in group system, application sharing, LAN, and even POTS standards have advanced interoperability such that it has transcended the confines of intra-organizational communications. It is an accepted part of business life, especially in multinational pharmaceutical companies, for executives to travel great distances to attend meetings, including medical, financial, manufacturing, sales and management conferences, and board meetings (Lidstone, 2003).
But now everyone must weigh up the consequences of such travel because there are events which should be taken into considerations first, and some examples are the attacks in America on September 11 2001, in Bali and Mombasa in 2002, and the Iraq war and SARS outbreak in 2003. Travel now involves huge expenditures for companies, not just in air, rail and road travel but also in opportunity cost, for example. British Executives spend over 10 hours travelling to attend an average of six meetings a week, and immense amount of time is wasted on roads, in trains and on aircraft.
Technology such as video conferencing, can replace more than ten percent of the business travel undertaken (Lidstone, 2003). And in addition to this, two thirds of top executives suffer serious physical symptoms from business trips, quite apart from the disruption to family life caused by absences from home and week-ends cut in half by departures to airports for the start of the another week’s round of meetings, often on the other sides of the globe (Lidstone, 2003).
Meetings still take place, notwithstanding the events of September 11, but their number, and the number of those who travelled by air to attend them, has diminished dramatically, which is why airlines are serious financial difficulties. Businesses use personal conferencing to save time and money by linking, employees, customers, suppliers, and strategic partners Any organization that relies upon geographically separated resources can benefit from videoconferencing.
Apparel makers use video conferencing to review concepts, artworks, type proofs, and sales and marketing collateral, retailers use it to display merchandise and thereby specify color and style, and recommend price and advertising messages, pharmaceutical companies use videoconferencing technology to develop new products, chemical companies, railroads, and jewelers’ all employ videoconferencing (Wilcox, 2000). Videoconferencing is valuable for reducing travel expense, and it is even valuable as a cost effective tool for improving productivity and communication, and as well as, vital to many organizations’ success.
Many successful organizations find it indispensable for managing resources such as the time of strategic personnel and for accelerating business cycles, and facilitating meetings that travel might preclude. With increasingly fast and increasingly inexpensive network bandwidth to offices and to homes, videoconferencing technology is becoming the basis for countless product new products and services (Wilcox, 2000).
It is also common in many applications such as executive, task force, and board member meetings, project management, desktop-to-desktop communications like personal conferencing, merger and acquisition management, collaborative-engineering, product development, and product review, product support, legal protocol (depositions, testimony, and remote arrangement), surveillance, emergency response, distant learning, distance training, large multi-site meetings, key personnel recruitment, telemedicine and health care provisioning, consulting, inter-company meetings with customers, suppliers, and partners, new product announcements to restricted audiences, and many more (Wilcox, 2000). Although people generally associate videoconferencing with business meetings, its applications are quite diverse and ideally creative. Although video conferencing has been used for years, until recently the investment, involving as much as 50,000 euro to install, plus the running cost, meant that is was considered too expensive as a method of communicating outside company boardrooms (Lidstone, 2003). As with all developing technologies, both the capital and the running cost have fallen to the point where video conferencing is now affordable, everyday tool of communication for businesses and staff at all levels.
Video conferencing is now used by most British, European and American pharmaceutical companies, including: Abbott, AstraZeneca, Aventis Pharma, Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, Hoffmann-La Roche and Sanofi Synthelabo (Lidstone, 2003). There are number of technical details that need to be dealt with if video conferencing is to take its rightful place alongside the other method by which companies can maintain effective communication with their staff, wherever they are based. One of the great benefits of video conferencing is that it enables companies to involve staff, who would not normally attend meetings where travel is concerned, because they are technical or administrative people rather than medical, manufacturing, marketing product or sales executives (Lidstone, 2003).
Desktop video conferencing is becoming increasingly available in both institutional and private settings as a cheaper alternative to traditional video conferencing (Pemberto, 2000). The cornerstone of the ‘information society’, the internet has brought text based communication toward synchronous interaction, just for example the Talk program in Unix allows two users to share the screen for simultaneous typing and text version of Internet Relay Chat can connect a number of discussants at the same time, but recently desktop video conferencing systems have become available for use over modem lines and internet (Pemberto, 2000). These systems can provide a moving image of participant, so the other is represented visually.
Many studies on human-computer interaction deal with sharing the linguistic code as a tool to act with the computer, or particularly in the case of virtual reality and video conferencing, the feeling of shared presence (Pemberto, 2000). One of the important differences between face to face discussions and those which take place through video conferencing is that, via the feedback screen which displays the camera image of the user, we can monitor what the other can see of ourselves, and vice versa (Pemberto, 2000). This is quite extension to our normal face to face interaction of the self and the other, however, particularly in those video conference setups which involve a changing camera angle, information about the nature of one’s own video picture is required because otherwise it is impossible to estimate how one is seen by the other.
The system of video conferencing from Japan to selected parts of the world has been available since the 1980s through KDD in cooperation with other international carriers, but the major drawback has been cost because video conferencing requires special equipment and installation of dedicated circuits in each overseas location. The network charges alone for one hour video call between Tokyo and San Francisco can run anywhere from 50,000 to 160,000 yen, depending on the speed transmission (Lee, 1998). The recent advent of ISDN technology (integrated Services digital Network) provides an alternative to leased circuits and makes video conferencing more affordable and practical (Lee, 1998).
A user can buy less expensive equipment and, using ISDN, dial up locations in more than 10 countries connected to the network. Charges are applied on a usage basis, similar to using a telephone. An ISDN call between Tokyo and San Francisco runs approximately 27,000 yen using 112/128k speed and private dedicated lines may be less expensive for large-volume users, but do not offer the flexibility of reaching multiple locations (Lee, 1998). To set up a company video conferencing system requires a monitor, video camera, codec, speakers, and keypad. The costs vary by model and maker and renting a fully equipped video conferencing room is possible. New developments in ISDN have resulted in the ability to communicate with more than one location at a time.
Multi-point video can be provided as a network service by the international carrier or as a function of equipment itself, and most multi point video conferences are voice activated, meaning the system follows the side that is speaking and projects the speaker’s face (Lee, 1998). Improvements in videoconferencing standards and in hardware such as codecs, MCUs, cameras, and PCs are enabling realtime VCR quality video at 30 frames per second (FPS), and emerging technologies such as USB and Firewire will increasingly simplify installation and reduce desktop and compact videoconferencing cost (Wilcox, 2000). According to Wilcox, such systems are eroding the conventional ISDN system endpoint market, which declined about 12% in market share to 93,600 units in 1998, and as WANs become more robust, they are making packet-switched video conferencing more practical.
IDC (International Data Corporation) projects desktop and compact videoconferencing revenue to grow from about 400,000 endpoints in 1999 to about 2. 1 million endpoints in 2003, and it is also expected that the number of desktop and compact videoconferencing systems will increase from 622,000 endpoints in 1998 to more than 4. 2 million endpoints in that same period. By then, the average price of commercial desktop videoconferencing system is expected to drop to $850, and by 2010, video conferencing will enter 50% of conference rooms (Wilcox, 2000). The era of any-to-any videoconferencing has dawned, but there is much more to come (Wilcox, 2000).
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