Video conferencing is a necessity.
There’s not a business I can think of, from farmers to financial advisors, that doesn’t stand to benefit in some way from the ability to make face-to-face video calls with clients, investors, colleagues, employees, partners, mentors–the list is endless.
More than half of American employees regularly make video calls, which means if you’re not currently set up to video conference, you are in the minority. If you’re looking to invest in a new video conference setup, or you want to upgrade from a basic webcam and desktop arrangement, you need to know what kind of technology is available. This post isn’t about selling you on brands and plans, it’s about making you aware of the essential features each modern video conferencing setup should include. These are our picks.
1. Active, Automated Cameras
The camera is the heart of your video conference. There is a range of factors, from your internet connection to your computer processor speed to the ambiance of the room, that contribute to the quality of your experience, but a first-rate camera is essential. That doesn’t just mean image clarity, either. HD 1080p is the industry standard for clarity today, but the best cameras aren’t passive picture takers anymore–they’re active, self-driven video directors.
Usually powered by smart microphone technology that can pinpoint where sound is coming from, these active cameras will automatically locate and focus on whoever is currently speaking during a meeting. When you’ve got a group of people sharing a camera, this highbrow autofocus makes it a lot easier to figure out who’s doing the talking. The tech has become so popular it is even available in free services, including Google Hangouts.
2. High Dynamic Range
You may be familiar with the term High Dynamic Range, or HDR, from your smartphone’s camera. It’s a software-based feature that takes three separate pictures every time you hit the shutter button. These low-, regular-, and high-exposure images are then combined to create a final product that has, as the name suggests, a higher range of colors and contrasts, making it appear sharper than your average photo.
This tech is now becoming popular in video conferencing cameras. In the VC setting, it does its best work creating quality images despite poor lighting conditions, be it a dim room or one with inconsistent natural light.
When you need to look professional, crisp, and well-lit at all times, this kind of tech is your ally.
3. Scalability and Compatibility
The lines may be blurring, but we still live in a Mac or PC, Android or iPhone world. Video conferencing is no different. Not every piece of hardware will work with every type of software, and vice versa. While agnostic devices are becoming more common, you should settle on a video conferencing platform (Skype for Business, GoToMeeting, Vidyo, etc.) before you purchase any equipment. My advice is to find a provider who’ll cover all your needs, such as adequate group call participant limits and sufficient tech support, and then find a device that was made with that product in mind. Skype Room Systems, for instance, uses Logitech tablet hubs designed to work with Skype for Business.
When searching for that VC provider, make sure the company can grow with you as your video calling demands become more complicated. This means being able to increase user endpoints, incorporate external BYOD, and accommodating higher and higher usage demands.
4. Sharing Screens, Files, and Control
One of the most common ways people break the flow of a video conference is by asking their fellow callers to check their email for an incoming file or attachment. Any video conference platform worth using should allow you to share files and text messages within a call–in a way that makes those files easy to find. Usually this takes the form of a simple message bar that runs alongside the chat windows, and some VC platforms, such as Skype, can handle files far larger than email can send, making it even more convenient and practical.
While we’re talking about sharing, you should also look for a service that lets you share your computer screen across a video call, and one that allows you to hand over control of your desktop. Both features make it easier to collaborate and to present information without turning to a second app.
5. Cloud Video Conferencing
Finally, it’s a good idea to investigate cloud-based video calling. The basic difference with, and in my opinion advantage over, on-premises video conferencing is that going with a cloud-based system makes you a renter, not an owner. Your cloud computing provider takes responsibility for the maintenance, tech support, and storage of all your video calling needs while you pay an ongoing monthly subscription. In most cases, that subscription is directly linked to the number of users your office boasts, which means you can control the cost and easily grow over time.
The disadvantage of cloud systems is you must hand over the security of your video calling to an external company and their public storage facilities. That limited risk, in my opinion–and remember you keep your money in someone else’s bank vault (and investment portfolio)–isn’t enough to overcome the advantage of being able to essentially outsource your VC needs, and grow without constraints. For companies dealing with very sensitive information, private cloud video calling and data storage might be the perfect option, offering the same scalability and ease of regular cloud systems, with a greater sense of security and exclusivity.
A Final Word on Modern Video Conferencing Setup Décor
Finally, all of this technology has to operate within the living confines of your boardroom or office. That means it’s affected by the acoustics, lighting, and furniture you use to fill out the room. VC Daily writers have been over this in depth before in posts on video conference room design, but there are some aesthetic considerations to keep in mind. You’ll want to make sure your walls are solid, muted colors that aren’t distracting, you’ll want to avoid glass tables and surfaces as they increase sound and light reverberations, and you’ll need to be aware that whatever you hang on the wall or place on the table may end up in your video call–so you might want to put that poster with the sassy saying in your office’s kitchenette, not the huddle room.