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Videoconferencing at UVa

Sharing Materials

Equipment for videoconferencing consists primarily of hardware and software dedicated to transmitting and receiving a video image and its accompanying audio signal. Devices for videoconferencing do this well, but few meetings or classes consist only of a speaker and listeners. Most materials can be used in a videoconference, but their use must be planned for and there are times when one format must be altered to make it electronically sharable. The client (device) used at the originating and receiving sites must be considered as well.

Appliance vs PC-based Clients

There are three basic categories of videoconference client:
  • PC-based (VCON Armada Escort, Vigo, ViaVideo)
  • Appliance (Polycom ViewStation)
  • NetMeeting (a special case)

A PC-based videoconference client will usually include a means of using collaboration tools such as a whiteboard window, a chat-style window, application sharing, and file exchange. These are often referred to as T.120 tools since they adhere to that protocol. Microsoft implemented this suite in their old NetMeeting application, and often other videoconference clients simply made use of this aspect of the NetMeeting application. Since these additional capabilities are displayed in a window separate from the actual videoconference window it is possible to view both in parallel (depending on how much screen space is available), or to "park" a window in the background or temporarily close it. It is also possible for a PC-based client to utilize both the hardware-based MCU service or the web interface of the software-based MCU service.

A videoconference appliance is easy to use, but will not have collaboration tools easily accessible as part of the interface. The Polycom ViewStation does have the ability to host a "slide show", but the slides' display is primary, relegating the view of the other participant(s) to a PIP (picture-in-picture) display.

NetMeeting is a special case because it uses a software codec (a program resident on the PC rather than the functionality being built into hardware). This makes NetMeeting very inexpensive since it can operate using cheap webcams and free software from Microsoft. However, it offers very low comparative frame rates, often freezing the display or updating excruciatingly slowly. The sound quality can suffer similarly.

The host of a videoconference must consider the types of participating clients that are being used in a videoconference when planning to use electronic presentation materials. It may be necessary to limit the types of clients used in order to maintain the level of performance desired for the videoconference and allow the types of planned presentations. The expectations of the participants must be realistic if choices are made which impact the conference quality. Prior planning may be necessary to either prepare materials appropriately or set up additional equipment. Finally, someone (either the presenter or an associate) needs to be familiar with how the videoconference will segue into the presentation and back to the videoconference.

The following list is a collection of Web pages that address different types of materials and their use in a videoconferencing environment.

Page Updated: 2012-02-16