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Videoconferencing: recent User Experience. A. Flavell, Glasgow University March 2001. Equip(1): Room-based. Dedicated room, providing H.320/ISDN, H.323/IP and/or ATM. Data sharing (T.120) sometimes available Costs GBP20,000+ Provided centrally in our University

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Videoconferencing recent user experience

Videoconferencing:recent User Experience

A. Flavell, Glasgow University

March 2001


Equip 1 room based
Equip(1): Room-based

  • Dedicated room, providing H.320/ISDN, H.323/IP and/or ATM.

  • Data sharing (T.120) sometimes available

  • Costs GBP20,000+

  • Provided centrally in our University

  • Has to be booked. Often clashes.

  • Good quality, but out of our price range

  • Not really considered further in this talk.

A.Flavell, HTASC


Equip 2 business class
Equip(2): ‘Business class’

  • PC-based system with dedicated hardware

  • Costs start at GBP400 (ViaVideo), 1K (Zydacron OnWAN, or VCON equiv), plus PC and display.

  • Supports H.323/IP and maybe H.320/ISDN2

  • Data sharing (T.120) available, usual Win/PC apps, unix windows via X server such as eXceed

  • Good echo cancelling

  • Full-screen video when desired

  • Typically PC-on-a-trolley; group of 4-6 quite feasible

A.Flavell, HTASC


Equip 3 cheap and cheerful
Equip(3): ‘Cheap and cheerful’

  • PC with cheap video capture GBP50-200 (we chiefly use Videum/AV under Win/NT4). Linux also feasible (with vic/rat): we don’t - others do.

  • Use either NetMeeting or vic/rat (VRVS)

  • Data sharing (NM); whiteboard and chat (VRVS)

  • Work done in CPU. Limited video window size

  • Relatively poor audio, no echo cancelling (use headset, or use Polyspan Soundpoint/PC GBP75).

  • Can afford to fit kit to many users’ PCs

  • Suitable for one person, or group of 2-3 at most

A.Flavell, HTASC


User reactions
User reactions

  • I’ve been trying in a small way to promote PC-based videoconferencing for quite a number of years: until recently, without much success.

  • Within less than a year, usage of the one (now two) ‘business class’ stations, and of some half-dozen equipped desktop PCs has “taken off”, and users want more.

  • Experience with the rollabout system and access to remote MCUs means that users see it as a real alternative to using the central room-based system.

A.Flavell, HTASC


User reactions 2
User reactions...(2)

  • Despite the inferior quality, users value the ‘cheap and cheerful’ NetMeeting or VRVS from their own desktop thanks to its informality and the availability of data sharing to show their work.

  • ‘Cheap and cheerful’ video is mainly for ‘presence’, rather than for showing information.

  • One UK site keeps trying to use NetMeeting to interwork with ‘business class’ users, but this proves less satisfactory and brings complaints from other sites - as our own tests also showed.

A.Flavell, HTASC


User reactions 3
User reactions...(3)

  • The basic Zydacron OnWAN Z350 kit can serve as a basis for enhancement as required, as it has external inputs for a better microphone, camera etc. Also a cordless keyboard/mouse can be recommended.

  • The relatively inexpensive ViaVideo (as seen elsewhere) is self-contained and has no external inputs. Its advantage is that, being USB-connected, it can be easily moved from one PC (e.g desktop) to another (e.g laptop).

A.Flavell, HTASC


User non reactions
User (non)-reactions

  • New VRVS with H.323 interworking has been tried a bit by me but not by our users. Seems a good idea as a transition aid, if it works reliably

  • MBone has been completely re-engineered in last couple of years and is now working well; but users aren’t exactly clamouring to use multicast.

  • RealNetworks sessions have been well received, but we haven’t tried to initiate any ourselves.

  • I’ve looked at OpenH323 and it looks promising, but not practically usable yet.

A.Flavell, HTASC


Conclusions 1
Conclusions (1)

  • Both ‘business class’ and ‘cheap and cheerful’ have useful roles to play

  • PC videoconferencing seems to have taken-off in last half-year with our users

  • Fragmentation is unfortunate (H.320/ISDN, H.323/IP, vic/rat, RealNetworks, Windows/Linux) but not of our making, and not really avoidable.

  • VRVS has been and is useful from personal desktops. Until OpenH323 is ready, how else to interwork with linux etc. systems?

A.Flavell, HTASC


Conclusions 2
Conclusions (2)

  • We’ve been very pleased with our Zydacrons, but better camera and microphone would be nice

  • Good audio is more important to users that good video - which often is only used for ‘presence’.

  • Data sharing is an extremely useful tool, and often missing from room-based setups

  • Other key components are MCUs, gateways and scheduling systems, but here we have been relying on services provided by others.

A.Flavell, HTASC


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