Video conferencing gives transparency to the impactful non-verbal cues and context that are missed in audio-only calls. In business, these cues are necessary to judge tone and meaning. Without it, huge portions of the overall communication can be missed and intent can be mis-interpreted.
This brings us to the question of which video conferencing platform is best for you. Instead of getting into manufacturers, we’ll focus on the overall types of platforms. Once there’s an understanding of the desired platform, then finding the right manufacturer becomes much simpler. The best platform for you will depend on your existing technology, network, and preferences.
There are three common platforms: Soft Codec, Hard Codec, and Cloud. The most important difference between these three video conferencing technologies is in the way they transmit audio/visual information.
A codec is a piece of software or hardware used to transmit AV communication. The word codec is an abbreviation of the words “coder” and “decoder” or “compressor” and “decompressor.” When you send a transmission (like live video) it is encoded. When the person on the other side receives a transmission, it is decoded. Any tool that does both, is a codec.
Soft codecs send and receive conference room audio-visual which is rendered by software. If you were to purchase a tablet computer and install a program that allows you to make video calls, that is run with a soft codec. Examples include Skype for Business and Zoom.
A soft codec is less expensive than a dedicated hardware codec because your subscription or purchase of the software does not provide any accompanying hardware. If it’s being used for individuals, it can easily run on the person’s computer or mobile phone. However, if the business wants to leverage a soft codec for conference room video conferencing, it will need additional hardware (like a dedicated PC, microphones, speakers, displays and cameras). An AV integrator can help you design and install a conference room system around the selected soft-codec platform.
Soft codec users may run a greater risk of interruptions because the device is doing more than just sending and receiving conference room video conferencing. However, professional video conferencing manufacturers, like Polycom and StarLeaf, are building solutions that support platforms like Skype for Business. This convergence of hardware and software can leverage Skype’s easy-to-use platform and scale it for conference room video conferencing in the professional environment.
A hard codec is a piece of hardware specially designed for video conferencing. With these devices, the user provides power and raw audio/video. The feed is compressed, transmitted and decompressed in real time. Polycom, LifeSize, Cisco and StarLeaf are all industry-leaders in hard codec technology.
Hard codecs have the advantage of running on dedicated devices. That means they are less susceptible to bandwidth bottlenecks. They are also less likely to be bogged down by background computing processes or unexpected software updates and can offer better quality transmissions.
Hard codecs tend to be more expensive and historically offered less flexibility than their software counterparts. In the past, manufacturer’s A system could only call another one of A’s system. Many technologies now overcome this limitation and provide the ability to dial ‘outsiders’ seamlessly.
The surge in popularity of cloud computing and advances in bandwidth availability over the last several years have made video conferencing via the cloud much more common. Cloud video conferencing can overlay both hard codec and soft codec systems.
Cloud systems are the umbrella over both hard and soft codecs. They offer features like individual chat and directories. A system like Zoom or Skype for Business is a soft-codec, cloud-based solution while StarLeaf offers hard codecs with cloud functionality. This system starts with the conference room video conferencing experience and brings it to the personal device with chat and point-to-point conferencing.
The best video conferencing system will depend on your needs, compatibility and budget. Certain systems and services don’t play nice together and each has its own limitation or nuance. Finding an audio visual integration partner can help you choose the right platform and make sure your devices and services are compatible.