As the name suggests, video conferencing software is software that allows two or more people to emulate a person-to-person meeting over the internet using real-time, multidirectional video and audio streaming.
Credit for the first video conferencing technology would probably have to go to AT&Ts Picturephone. As far back as 1968, this device used the Bell telephone network to broadcast a video feed between three Picturephone booths in Washington DC, New York, and Chicago. These three Picturephones could communicate only with each other. Costs ranged from $16 to $27 for three minutes.
While there would be many advances in video and broadcasting technology in the following decades, it would take the growth of the internet before video conferencing technology really hit the mass market.
Today, video conferencing software is used by companies of all sizes to connect global partners and employees. Thanks to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, it has come on leaps and bounds in terms of both accessibility and affordability to become one of the essential technologies of the modern business communications suite.
There are video conferencing solutions to suit many different needs. From best video conferencing software for small businesses to customized packages that incorporate file-sharing and text functionalities, to products that straddle the boundary between business-oriented and personal communication tools.
Video conferencing software applications facilitate both point-to-point (two-person) and multipoint (three or more participants) video meetings.
Point-to-point video conferencing is similar to a typical video call that many of us are familiar with. As the two participants speak to each other, the audio and video signals from one device are carried over the network and fed to the other.
Multipoint video conferencing uses the same setup of camera, microphone, monitor, and speaker to enable three or more people to recreate the kind of dynamic multidirectional conversation that is possible in a brick-and-mortar conference facility.
To make the most of the software, participants will need a webcam, a microphone, and some speakers. Fortunately, most modern computers and smartphones come fully equipped with these devices so that there are now more ways than ever to take part in a video conference. Thanks to cloud-based video conferencing infrastructures, it is now easy to take part in a point-to-point video conference with no more equipment needed than a video-enabled mobile phone.
Typically, the preference is to use a larger monitor rather than a mobile device when taking part in a multipoint video conference. This is because for a multipoint meeting the software will likely need to display the image from more than one camera at the same time. If you’ve ever tried to watch more than a few different camera streams on a small screen, you will know the limited visibility it affords.
Whether it’s a morning stand up meeting with just a few essential team members, or a full board meeting involving presentations and lengthy discussion, there is a video conferencing solution for almost any type of meeting you would otherwise need to be at the same physical location to take part in. Aided by the screen-sharing ability of many video conferencing applications, presentations are not limited to what just can be shown via the camera feed.
In 2020 and 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic forced many organizations to shut the doors of their physical workplaces and look for alternative ways to go about their business. The subsequent shift in the way we think about location and employment has caused many of us to reconsider the necessity of endless face-to-face meetings.
In the burgeoning world of remote working and decentralized employment, video conferencing is an increasingly indispensable tool for facilitating professional collaborations and team projects when people can’t meet up in person.
For many companies, it also helps them to reduce their reliance on physical spaces, saving costs on office rental and venue hire.
Finally, when used as a tool for remote work, video conferencing software allows businesses to look further afield when recruiting new staff. Even for jobs that aren’t entirely remote, it is now common for interview processes to take place remotely via video conference.
Traditionally, the distinction between video conferencing and telepresence has been one of quality. Telepresence is typically understood to deploy greater technical sophistication and improved fidelity of both sound and vision than in conventional video conferencing.
However, with better technology than ever before, including higher resolution screens and the widespread availability of a reliable internet connection, debates over telepresence vs video conferencing have largely dried up. These days, even free software is able to provide a high-quality and relatively uninterrupted video conferencing service.
Video conferencing software is one of a set of technologies that are making the world a more intimate place and ushering in a new era of digitally inflected working models that promise to change the landscape of employment.
As it becomes an increasingly normalized aspect of professional life, video conferencing is seen as a solution to various communication challenges for its ease of use and productivity-boosting capacity.