Extend the Reach of Education with IVCi

Today at the Visual Communications Industry Group Annual Expo, IVCi unveiled its comprehensive suite of distance learning solutions. Combining the best of Audio Visual Integration, Video Conferencing, and cloud services, these solutions enable educational institutions to extend the reach of education far outside of the classroom. IVCi is exhibiting at booth #201. If you are out at the show, come by and take a look! We are also showcasing our new UC Room solution.

Additional Resources:

IVCi Distance Learning Solutions Press Release

UC Group Systems

 

A Glossary of Video Conferencing Terms

As visual collaboration announcements about new products continue to hit the news it can be somewhat challenging to discern the technical jargon from the user benefit. Nearly all of these announcements refer back to some set of technical terms that may be lauded in the announcement but aren’t fully explained. Below are some key terms and meanings that you might have seen recently.

SVC – Scalable Video Coding:
Up until now most major video conferencing manufacturers have built their solutions around AVC (Advanced Video Coding). Essentially AVC and SVC are formats of compression technology that allow high definition video to be sent across networks in an efficient manner. AVC essentially sends video at a one resolution, one frame rate with one level of quality across a network. The weakness with this approach is when there are network issues; quality suffers because the stream is unable to adapt down to different resolutions or frame rates.

Conversely, SVC sends multiple layers and resolutions, while monitoring the network. When problems arise, SVC can essentially peel back layer by layer, adapting to the network environment. The result is smoother video that provides a superior user experience.

1080p30 vs. 1080p60
720 and 1080 refer to the lines of resolution of a high definition video single. If you own a HDTV at home you are generally watching 720 or 1080 content on your screen, usually at 30 frames per second. Essentially the human eye is interpreting 30 images a second to create the motion of the content on TV. Now video conferencing systems are starting to use 60 frames a second; the result is a more lifelike, fluid motion. As these frame rates go up, along with the resolution, the image becomes closer to reality.

B2B
The “holy grail” of video conferencing has been the ability to easily connect to and communicate with vendors, partners, and suppliers. Many of the roadblocks for this type of communication have been technological; either due to interoperability or network issues. The term B2B in the visual collaboration world refers to this type of cross organization connections.

H.323
Delivering video conferencing signals across networks requires a number of elements to be successful. The H.323 protocol is design to be a standard that video conferencing manufacturers use which allows their systems to speak the same language. H.323 controls the audio and video signals, the bandwidth, and call control (alerting you to incoming calls, providing alerts, etc). Major manufacturers such as Polycom, Cisco, and Lifesize offer H.323 systems that can easily communicate with each other.

SIP
Like H.323, SIP is a protocol design to enable the communication and connection of devices across networks. SIP is an older protocol that was designed more for closed systems that would ultimately connect via gateways to other closed systems. Additionally, it is not as robust for adding new features.

Polycom Doubles Down on the Future

Yesterday Polycom held a press event at NASDAQ to announce a bevy of products and offerings. This event was the culmination of several years of R&D and the announcements signaled Polycom’s strategic direction for the next several years. Specifically, the announcements surrounded room and personal based video conferencing systems, as well as, new software based solutions and cloud offerings. Specific announcements included:

Move to SVC
Polycom is moving to an open source version of SVC (Scalable Video Coding).  What is particular interesting about this is not only is Polycom gaining the feature benefits of SVC (1080p60, bandwidth scalability, etc), they are also offering up their SVC implementation free to the marketplace. Microsoft has already started working this into their next version of Lync (2013).

New Room Systems
The RealPresence Group Series is a new collection of room based video conferencing endpoints designed for the middle market. These solutions feature the new Polycom UX (User Experience) which is a redesigned interface for the systems that is shared across the entire product line. The new interface makes it easier to schedule and use the systems. In addition, these solutions will offer the SVC codec out of the box.

New Desktop Solution
The RealPresence Desktop solution is Polycom’s software based endpoint supporting both Windows and Mac based operating systems. This solution combines the best of Polycom’s m100 software and CMA managed solution into a single client. The application can run independent or as a part of Polycom’s management tools, enabling infinite scalability. In addition, this app has been enabled with the new SVC codec.

Updated Mobile Solution
Polycom’s RealPresence Mobile is being upgraded to version 2.0. This new release (for both Android and iOS Devices) brings several new features including SmartPairing (the ability for the device to control room systems as well as seamlessly transfer video calls from one device to another), as well as, support for SVC, the new interface introduced in the rest of Polycom’s offerings and compatibility with Polycom’s new Access Director software.

RealPresence Access Director
Access Director is Polycom’s new solution for enabling video within and beyond your firewall.
From Polycom: “RealPresence® Access Director™ is a software-based edge server that enables users within and beyond the firewall to securely access video services—whether at home, in the office, or on the go.”

RealPresence Collaboration Servers
Polycom introduced several key enhancements to their MCU (multipoint control unit) product line that enables SVC, 1080p60, and many other options. In addition, the 800s, Virtual Edition is designed to run purely as a software based solution on industry standard X86 processors.  This opens up an entire new world of virtualized delivery options.

RealPresence CloudAXIS Suite
CloudAXIS brings Polycom’s solution for enabling video connectivity between business level solutions and consumer applications such as Skype and Google Video Chat. The solution is built around a web browser that enables participants to join video calls with nothing more than a webcam. CloudAXIS interfaces with Skype and Google “buddy” lists allowing for easy drag and drop call setup. A user can simply grab a Skype friend, a business connection on a standards based video system, and a Google contact, drag them onto the screen and a call is immediately launched. Polycom is offering this solution to their partners who can then offer a cloud based, subscription model to sell to their customers.

Whew! There was a lot announced yesterday and there is a lot more to come. Over the next week few weeks we will focus on the different solutions, the benefits they offer and how they can impact organizations.

Saving Billions, One Federal Agency at a Time

Last week Telework Exchange released “Fly Me to Your Room: Government Video Conferencing Collaboration Report.” This report outlined the benefits of video conferencing and telecommuting that can be realized by the federal government. In the report, the authors interviewed 128 Federal employees in an attempt to understand the value of video within the government.

As a prelude to this report, President Obama issued Executive Order 13589 in November of last year that promoted “efficient spending” and one of the key areas mention was Government travel. What’s truly amazing about this is that the federal government spent $15 billion on travel in 2011. So clearly, reducing travel spend is of top priority!

From the executive order:

“To ensure efficient travel spending, agencies are encouraged to devise strategic alternatives to Government travel, including local or technological alternatives, such as teleconferencing and video conferencing.”

In addition to the potential travel costs savings, the report reveals time savings and productivity time recovered. Respondents reported that video conferencing saves them an average of 3.5 hours of work time a week. In addition, “if just half of Federal government works used video conferencing, the government could save $8 billion annually in productivity costs.”

The numbers are truly astounding. While the government is a huge bureaucracy, even the smallest of organizations can realize a savings when implementing video conferencing.

To read the entire report, click here.

Additional Resources
The Traveler’s Guide to Video Conferencing – Webinar Recording

Why Unify Your Communications?

With all the buzz around unified communications including new product releases, features, acquisitions and more, it’s easy to forget the why of UC and how it can benefit an organization. In this series of posts we will examine some of the key areas of UC and what the business benefit can be. For part one click here.

Now that we have examined what some of the key features of UC solutions are, it’s important to understand who are the major players in the market and what solutions they offer. While many of these solutions have been on the market for some time; others are new and constantly evolving.

Microsoft
Microsoft has been providing UC solutions in some form for over ten years. Microsoft’s Exchange platform (which powers around 65% of corporate email systems) has had messaging capabilities since the early versions. In 2003, Microsoft released Office Communications Server which has since evolved into Microsoft Lync. Lync has shown strong growth and interest from customers, and Microsoft recently announced that the Lync business unit has seen 40%+ growth. The solution offers what you would expect from a UC platform: presence, instant messaging, screen sharing and conferencing, video, voice, and more. In addition, Lync integrates closely with Outlook and Exchange to allow for unified messaging. Essentially email, voicemail, chat, and other communications all live within your Outlook desktop.

As part of Microsoft’s video strategy, Lync is heavily integrated with the Polycom video conferencing portfolio. From the Lync client, a user can seamlessly connect to a Polycom video system or join a multi-party conference via a Polycom bridge.

Cisco
Cisco has been offering unified communications solutions for quite some time. Jabber is the most recent and robust UC offering and integrates technology from WebEx, its voice products, Cisco Unified Presence and more. As with other offerings in the marketplace, Jabber has functionality around instant messaging and presence, voice, video conferencing and more. Of particular note with Jabber is that Cisco offers clients across multiple devices, including PC and Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Android devices.

For customers who previously used Movi video conferencing from Cisco, this product has been renamed Cisco Jabber Video for TelePresence.

IBM
IBM offers Sametime as its UC offering. Sametime provides the same features previously mentioned in other solutions: instant messaging, presence, online meetings (think WebEx), mobile, and voice. Sametime makes the UC experience more social by integrating with IBM’s social collaboration tools such as IBM WebSpere and IBM Connections. With this integration, users are able to initiate collaboration sessions within the context of their current project or assignment. For example, when reviewing documents hosted on an IBM social product for a particular project, a user can initiate a chat with an assigned team member to discuss that particular deliverable.

Avaya
Avaya offers multiple UC solutions including best-of-breed solutions that integrate with many of the tools currently available in the marketplace. Avaya’s most integrated option is Avaya Flare. Flare integrates conferencing, web collaboration, social media, presence, IM, video and more into a single interface. Perhaps one of the most compelling features of Flare is that the interface is identical across PCs, iPads, or even an Avaya Desktop Video Device (a result of Avaya’s acquisition of video conferencing manufacturer Radvision).

The Unified Communications market continues to grow and evolve at a rapid pace. There are clearly a number of strong offerings available for any size organization. When evaluating these solutions it is important to look not only at the key features but also how it can integrate into your current environment.

 This post is part of a series on unified communications solutions.

Part One: What’s in the Box?

Webinar Recording – The Traveler's Guide to Video Conferencing

On September 20th, IVCi hosted a webinar presented by the Aberdeen Group that focused on travel expense management and the power of video conferencing to significantly reduce expenses. Christopher Dwyer, analyst, offered some compelling data about how best-in-class organizations have been able to reduce travel and meeting spend by incredible amounts.

SLIDES PRESENTED:

WEBINAR RECORDING:

Webinar: The Traveler's Guide to Video Conferencing

 Whenever video is sold or even mentioned, travel reduction is one of the first thing that comes up. In fact, the promise of decreasing an organization’s travel costs with virtual meetings is as old as video technology itself. Green initiatives, such as reducing emissions and carbon footprints, and increasing employee productivity due to less business travel are other highly mentioned benefits. 

But, how do organizations track these savings and really prove the ROI of video?

Join Aberdeen Research Director Christopher Dwyer and IVCi on September 20th at 2 PM Eastern at a webinar that will show you how organizations are successfully reducing business travel (and proving it) as they leverage video and virtual meeting technology.

In this webinar you will learn:

  1. The value of integrating video conferencing and travel/expense management systems
  2. How best-in-class organizations have leveraged virtual technology to improve meetings and events management
  3. The level of savings achieved by actual organizations currently supplementing or replacing in-person events with video conferencing

Sign up today!

The Traveler’s Guide to Video Conferencing
[Click here to Register]
Date: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Time: 2:00 PM Eastern / 11:00 AM Pacific (US)

Why Unify Your Communications?

Why Unify Your Communications - What's In The Box

With all the buzz around unified communications including new product releases, features, acquisitions and more, it’s easy to forget the why of UC and how it can benefit an organization. In this series of posts we will examine some of the key areas of UC and what the business benefit can be.

To understand what UC solutions can do for an organization it is important to understand what features and functions are included in the solutions available today. Some may think of UC as just video conferencing or web conferencing; however, it is a collection of many different technologies that are seamlessly integrated together.

Presence
Presence is a feature that is at the heart of a unified communications solution. It allows a user to communicate their availability (on the phone, away, in a meeting) while also allowing the system to provide location information (in the office, working from home, etc). How many times have you tried to reach a colleague only to learn that they are working remotely and only available on their mobile phone? Presence can provide the information need to connect to someone in the fastest manner possible.

Instant Messaging
Instant messaging makes communicating with a colleague as simple as a point and click. Clicking on a user can initiate a text conversation, similar to a text on your mobile phone that can allow for quick catch ups on key items and to also check availability for meetings down the road.

Audio Conferencing
With UC solutions it is incredibly easily to upgrade an instant messaging discussion to an audio conversation. Simply click on the users name, select the call feature and the application will dial the number stored. These calls can be a point-to-point audio discussion or include multiple audio participants in a session (similar to an audio bridge).  The connection can occur over standard phones or via the UC application directly on the user’s desktop.

Screen and Document Sharing
During an audio or IM conversation it might be necessary for parties involved to share a document or participate in a white boarding session. A UC application can upgrade the interaction by providing a visual content sharing session. Users can view each other’s screen and collaborate on a key document or deliverable together.

Video Conferencing
UC solutions offer the ability for users to meet face to face via video conferencing. All of the UC applications available offer some form of video conferencing. In some cases it may be calls limited to two participants, in other cases it can be large scale multi-party calls. In either case, the power of visual communication is enhanced as each participant can see each other while collaboration.

Mobility
The final major functionality of most UC applications is the ability to access some or all of the functions listed above via a mobile device. This could be a smartphone or a tablet such as the iPad. Either way the goal is to provide a seamless experience whether the user is on their computer or traveling with their mobile device.

It is clear that UC applications offer a robust feature set that can help organizations collaborate in new and exciting ways. Not all UC applications are created equal, so make sure to understand the entire breadth of feature set before moving forward with an implementation.

This post is part of a series on unified communications solutions.

Part Two: What’s Out There?

What is Audio Visual Integration?

The term “audio visual integration” is used quite a bit by organizations (including IVCi!) to describe the work that they do. The term is well known within the “industry” and customers may even use the term to describe a potential project, but what does it really mean?

When thinking about the term, one has to look at the application of the technology within a particular business or organization. What are you attempting to accomplish within the room? It might be as simple as wanting to have a display that you can hook your laptop up to and present slides. Or maybe it’s a bit more involved where video conferencing, presentations, cable TV, Blu-ray players, and overall lighting and shading control are desired. With that level of complexity, it’s time to think integration.

The truth of the matter is that there is not one company that makes of all of these different technologies. If there was, it might be as simple as connecting all of them together and creating the final room. But, since different vendors are providing the technology, the challenge comes down to a couple areas:

  • How to get all of these technologies to work together
  • How to enable seamless control of all devices from a single interface

The answer to both is audio visual integration! The process of integration involves creating the connections between these devices (usually through a series of switchers or matrix devices) and then programming software that connects the devices and enables that seamless switching.

Creating an audio visual integrated room is a meld of art and science. The art is in the design of the room itself; the lighting, furniture, and the selection of the right technologies that will eventually come together. The science comes in with the building of those technology connections and making each device work together as if they were one. – Tim Hennen, SVP Audio Visual Integration Services at IVCi

Beyond the technology, it’s important to understand what these types of environments truly do. They provide a specific set of technologies, with specific customizations, to meet unique customer and business needs.  It’s about creating an environment conducive for collaboration and addressing the business needs at hand.

So when you look to find the right integrator for you project consider two things:

  • Do they have the technological expertise to meet the needs of the project
  • Do they take the time to really understand the application of the room and how it will impact users and the business

If the answer to both is yes, then that integrator is poised to give you exactly what you need.

And, when the room is complete, a few buttons can trigger complex interactions between video conferencing systems, laptop computers, shade control and much more. To the end-user the experience is seamless; but to the integrator, the process to get there was quite involved.

Video Conferencing and Hollywood

Video Conferencing in Hollywood

The power of video conferencing to enable true collaboration is something that is understood by everyone who uses the technology. When thinking about industries and occupations that rely on collaboration one has to look no further than film and television production. These are incredibly collaborative mediums that require the deep cooperation and team work of writers, producers, directors, editors, and many others.

Some of today’s biggest blockbusters have crews that number in the thousands. Coordinating that effort can be incredibly daunting, especially with many remote filming locations and production experts spread throughout the world. It’s no wonder that Hollywood has adopted video conferencing as key member of the production team. There are many different applications for video within a film and television production environment including:

Post Production
The editing and post production (sound, special effects, etc) of a film can take more than a year to complete, sometimes longer. Coordinating the director’s schedule with the editor to get a cut of the film completed can be challenging (in many cases the director has moved onto shooting their next film, while the current film is still being worked). Many production companies make use of video conferencing to connect the editor, the director, and other post production team members.

Perhaps what is most amazing about this is how long Hollywood has been utilizing this method. Back in the early 90s, Steven Spielberg had finished filming Jurassic Park in Hawaii and had moved on to shooting Schindler’s List in the middle of a harsh European winter. He would be out shooting the difficult subject matter of the Holocaust during the day and then during his down time he would be reviewing edits and special effects shots from Jurassic Park via video conferencing. This is now status quo in many productions and has allowed creative teams to hit their deadlines despite their location and demands of new projects.

On the television side I can provide a first-hand experience. In 2001 I worked as an intern on the NBC television series, Third Watch. We were shooting throughout New York City on location and in a small studio in Brooklyn. The post production of the show was handled back in Los Angeles. Many times throughout my internship I was able to participate in editing sessions with the director (in NY) and the editors and producers back in Los Angeles.

Production
A new trend has emerged with video and Hollywood and that is video conferencing to help direct during production. Steven Spielberg (our model example again!) and Peter Jackson worked very closely on the recently released Adventures of Tin Tin. This film was not shot in a traditional sense; it was actually actors on a motion capture stage. Cameras captured their movements and this was translated into 3D imagery that could then be manipulated. Spielberg and Jackson were able to “co-direct” several scenes over video and determine the best camera angle, movement, etc.

Casting
Casting for a film can take months or even years. The same challenges exist in getting producers, directors, casting agents, and talent in the same location. Using video, potential stars can do their auditions and readings via video, to be viewed by anyone on the production team anywhere in the world. This certainly doesn’t replace the face to face interaction needed between actor and director, but it provides a good first introduction to new talent.

With film budgets well over $200 million in some cases and schedules that can carry-on for years, video has provided a way to keep everyone connected and on schedule throughout the long process of producing a movie or television series.

Additional Resources:

Bad Robot Case Study from Polycom