It used to be that companies had deep travel budgets that allowed executives and associates alike to rack up frequent-flyer perks and spend layovers dallying in semi-exclusive airport clubs. These days, face-to-face business communications isn't what it once was and tighter travel budgets as well as increased apprehension about (not to mention hassle with) flying have pushed companies to reevaluate the potential of video technologies to solve the old problems of doing business.
Yet decreased business travel isn't the only reason digital video is changing the image of corporate and educational communication. Whether you're training employees on a new product, hawking a product to potential customers, or pitching shareholders on a new vision for the future, the more efficient and effective way may be through digital video. And now may just be the time as there are a variety of technologies available that have matured from experimental and early adopter to just the best way to get the job done.
Even against the backdrop of arguably high capital costs in down economic times, digital video can often increase audience size and provide for more effective communication than traditional static forms of content and, perhaps surprisingly, even save users money. Whether the video solution takes the form of low bandwidth streaming media over the Internet or high-quality video over intranet IP, new methods are changing old habits.
Video Communications Come of Age
Let's start with the video technology that is probably the most readily understood—videoconferencing. When you get right down to it, videoconferencing is hardly new to anyone working in a corporate environment these days not to mention anyone who's ever seen shows like the Jetsons to Star Trek: The Next Generation. AT&T Bell Labs was experimenting with videophones three decades ago. Yet, it's been a slow evolution of technology to get video quality up, prices on equipment down, and compelling reasons for the technology to proliferate. Despite the familiarity of videoconferencing, it's really a new habit.
For media and electronics giant Sony, the move to videoconferencing came relatively recently: "Sony is starting to make a big push in videoconferencing. Sony certainly understands the power of visual communications and we think videoconferencing is ready to become a big part of the way companies do business." That comment was actually made by Sony's videoconferencing product manager about two years ago, before the events of September 11 and the current sluggish economy. The technology may have been ready and Sony might have been right even back then, but there's no question that 9-11 changed habits, especially travel, and that videoconferencing makers have seen an obvious boost in installations since.
Video In the Box
With the exception of these indirect one-to-many news reports, videoconferencing is essentially a point-to-point augmentation of telephony. However, not all remote visual communication is true videoconferencing and the differences offer some new methods of expanded audiences for life or recorded events. In the past, content distribution of live events meant simply getting as many people as possible to physically attend an event, lecture, or performance. The new way is helping to bring that content to the people.
VBrick Systems builds stand alone encoding appliances that leverage the higher bandwidths of Local or Wide Area Networks to send television-quality video to remote locations as IP data. Instead of the highly compressed intraframe video format of videoconferencing devices, which show a person's face but not much detail, full-quality television over IP offers a richer visual experience for situations where latency may be less of an issue.
The University of Utah uses products from VBrick Systems to distribute live and on-demand lectures to students in remote areas of the state who otherwise would not have access to University facilities and educational offerings. A standalone encoder takes a direct lecture hall video feed and sends it as MPEG-video IP data to remote locations of the state where students can watch live on a large monitor or projector. In certain situations where two-way communication is established, remote students can even participate in the class. Or, by storing the digital video to a remote server, lectures can also be viewed on-demand and remote or local viewing stations. VBrick's encoding appliances have also found applications in remote security delivering full-quality surveillance images, remote medical diagnosis where quality is critical, and in the corporate world to increase presentation and business announcement audiences that used to be served only by an email of presentation slides or text.