Teleconferencing systems facilitate collaboration and distance learning.
There can be no denying that teleconferencing as an industry is growing faster than predicted. From beginnings in large-group corporate conference rooms, this technology has been heartily embraced by education. Distance learning and telecommunications have brought instruction to students and teachers nationwide and all over the world.
Teachers can now provide instruction to students in numberous remote classrooms; one trainer can provide information to employees at various sites across the country. These group or multipoint scenarios have been the standard for many years. A new revolution is taking place, however, that brings teleconferencing to the desktop.
The technology is currently available in several stages. Desktop conferencing begins with simple document sharing, a plus for collaborative writing and project work as well as text-based lessons. Imagine "classes" of 15 to 30 adult learners, where each student is at his or her own home computer. A teacher posts a document for discussion; online chats, mark-up capabilities and printing out final copies enhance the learning experience.
Several desktop teleconferencing packages have emerged, most recently Intel's ProShare, that add video windows and audio capabilities for one-to-one videoconferencing. In addition, several systems provide multi-point videoconferencing for small groups.
* High Standards
Multi-point videoconferencing has adopted the video portion of the H.320 standard developed by the telecommunications industry. Unfortunately, this high-quality standard is unacceptable in desktop applications because it is compute-intensive, expensive and supports switched digital networks versus LANs.
Intel chose instead to implement their Indeo video compression algorithm in their ProShare package. This keeps the overall cost manageable for users but limits quality. Also, ProShare users can only interact with each other. Standards will need to be developed that will allow group users of H.320 to communicate with PC-based videoconferencers.
Another point is transmission method. ISDN telephone-based service is only offered in specific areas nationwide, however as videoconferencing takes off, fueled by increased business and personal users, service is sure to spread.
Two services that utilize ISDN telephone lines are currently being offered: Primary Rate and Basic Rate. Both provide a number of 64 Kbps channels (B channels) for digitized voice, data or video and a single data (D) channel.
An emerging digital service that complements Primary Rate is called Multi-Rate ISDN. This circuit-switched service allows users to make calls from 128 Kbps to 1.472 Mbps in 64 Kbps increments over an ISDN network. Users make calls through a public network on a per-call basis at different data rates.
Other emerging transmission technologies such as asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) could handle video in a less expensive manner.
* Large-Group Systems
PictureTel Corp. has identified education as an important market for their videoconferencing products. PictureTel Learning Applications provide video and audio telecommunications with additional teaching tools. The Classroom System comprises a complete videoconferencing system that is part of the PictureTel System 4000 Family; a 46" rearprojection monitor; and a range of teaching tools including a special interface that provides instructors with one-button control of selected functions via a desktop keypad; a 1/2" CCD document camera, a wide-angle auxiliary camera and tripod, 3" preview monitor for the document camera, and both tabletop and lapel microphones. The tools are offered optionally as a Learning Option Package.
The Classroom System provides high-performance video via H.320-compliant Link-64E and proprietary SG3 compression algorithm; the latter support encryption and annotation features. As far as audio goes, Integrated Dynamic Echo Cancellation adapts to the acoustics of any room. Other highlights are the ability to switch between private and public networks and support for the PictureTel M-8000 Multipoint Bridge, which provides capabilities to 16 classrooms simultaneously; bridge cascading expands the system to as many as 240 sites.
The latest addition to the PictureTel Learning line is Socrates, a videoconferencing presentation station that controls the System 4000 and accompanying peripherals via a touch-sensitive screen mounted in a podium that also houses optional equipment like VCRs and slide projectors.
VTEL is another firm targeting education for its videoconferencing products. Of the many offered, two are of note: The BK Series MediaConferencing systems--BK227 and BK235--provide two 27" monitors or one 35" monitor, respectively. Both support data rates up to T1, real-time remote diagnostic features and a userdefinable control tablet for system functions.
Three functions are central to the systems. DocumentConferencing sends freeze-frame slides to all other multi-point videoconference participants and provides an onscreen whiteboard with slide send, capure and save capabilities. ComputerConferencing combines real-time document manipulation so two participants can work on one document concurrently and all participants can view those changes. Lastly, TimeConferencing is a scheduler that allows users to leave VideoMail video and audio messages of up to one minute for conference participants.
A third VTEL product is the VP125, a compact videoconferencing system on a cart with a 25" screen, powerful speaker system and support for up to full T1 data rates. Software-based, the system can be easily upgraded.
NEC also offers a mobile unit. Videoworks is a T1-selectable system that combines a 27" monitor with picture-in-picture preview, a cabinet with space for peripheral devices,a single-chip CCD color camera, compact graphics station, dual dial-up Digital Service Units or a Single Service Unit, a modem for remote diagnostics and a remote controller with onscreen features. The system integrates a TC5000EX10 codec/audio/control unit with an echo-canceled audio system, 30 fps video and picture-in-picture preview.
Optional features are a 32" color monitor, a dual-monitor system, a second CCD color camera and additional tabletop microphones. A telephone add-on allows third parties to interact in an audio-only capacity.
* Multi-Point on Carts & PCs
While large-group systems have been predominant in videoconferencing, small-group or multi-point configurations are becoming more relevant and available in desktop configurations. Collaborative projects for both instructors and students can benefit from this technology, as can researchers and administrators.
One player in this area is InSoft, Inc., makers of Communique! small-group videoconferencing systems. Already offering a UNIX-based product, InSoft recently announced a Windows system for 486 PCs. The collaborative, desktop conferencing solution features a shared whiteborad and writeboard, groupware tools and InSync audio/video synchronization software. More than one location at a time can communicate, making this multi-point software useful for adult education or remote location instruction.
Communique! is based on Digital Video Everywhere (DVE), an open-systems environment that allows users to conference transparently across Ethernet, ATM, FDDI, Frame Rely, SMDS and ISDN links and simultaneously supports video compression standards like Indeo, JPEG and others.
Other products offered by the company are CommuniqueLite!, which allows several users to conference over a network with a shared whiteboard, shared writeboard and groupware tools; Communique! AudioGraph, which adds audio software support via an integrated kit of a microphone and audio board; plus Communique! Conference Kits that exclude the base desktop system but provide Communique! software, a range of video boards, a high- or low-resolution CCD camera, a 16-bit audio board and a studio-quality microphone.
Another offering comes from SMART Technologies. Their SMART 2000 Conferencing System software, now in version 3.2 for PCs, provides multi-point document conferencing using voicegrade telephone networks or LANs/WANs. Computer images are projected onto a 4[feet] x 3[feet] touch-sensitive SMART Board, available in either front- or rear-screen configurations. Participants can annotate images using different colors of electronic ink.
Of note, the SMART 2000 software allows any user to share a live Windows application with others who do not have that application. And if all sites are running SMART 2000 and the same application, all are able to share and annotate files in real time. To maintain order, only one site has control over the mouse and keyboard at a time.
Lastly, up to 32 locations can be connected via the SMART Bridge, a digital conference bridge available in eight-, 16- and 32-port configurations. The firm also offers a full video and data conferencing system, SMART Video Conferencing System, that incorporates various peripherals and Intel's ProShare software.
Compression Labs, Inc. (CLI) provides several small-group solutions, including the eclipse 8100 family, a cart-based system that includes either a 20[inches] or 27[inches] monitor. Built in are an auto-focus camera mounted above eye level, still video graphics capabilities, full-duplex and echo-canceled audio, a document camera, an integrated video codec that supports the TSS international standard and a proprietary CTX algorithm that offers high video quality at 112/128 Kbps, and ISDN and/or switched 56 network access.
A hand-held remote controls the eclipse camera, system set-up and boasts a telephone keypad. Other highlights are onscreen messaging and picture-in-picture.
Datapoint Corp.'s MINX 2002 desktop videoconferencing workstation is a self-contained unit that integrates a small VGA monitor; internal camera, speaker and microphone; a picture-in-picture viewfinder; a tilt/rotate base; and auxiliary inputs for other desktop peripherals. A phone-type keypad handles dialing and other user application functions.
MINX 2002 workstations are then connected to the MINX Cluster Server, a multi-point control unit that facilitates all network functions over fiber, telephone lines or earth stations. Switching the audio and video among conference participants is voice activated and performed similarly to a PBX system. Adapter cards are used in the Cluster Server to connect workstations, codecs, cable TV, VCRs and other devices to the network.
Each Cluster Server generally accommodates eight workstations. The server can also act as a hub for remote connections when used with a codec. A Super Cluster Server, able to handle up to 32 workstations, was just announced, as was the SuperHub 3200. SuperHub manages all video network functions, both local and long distance, and supports 786 connections of mixed platforms.
Finally, for both cart- and desk-top-based small-group products, VTEL offers the 115 and 117 or the 127. The first two systems ship with either a 15[inches] or 17[inches] monitor, a 486 computer and a color CCD camera. Transmission rates reach 384 Kbps and videoconferencing windows can be up to full screen in size.
The VTEL 127 incorporates the same 486 computer, however a 27[inches] monitor and camera are placed on a mobile cart. Enhanced speakers and a tabletop microphone provide audio. All support Basic Rate ISDN and are multi-point ready.
* Personal Videoconferencing
For situations where one-on-one conferencing is desired, several products are now available. As mentioned earlier, Intel's foray into this market is seen as a boon; many believe desktop conferencing will become virtually commonplace in the near future because of the firm's name recognition and ability to invest considerably into partnerships that will help lower costs and improve the technology.
ProShare, Intel's Windows-based document sharing program, features an onscreen notebook, mark-up tools and pointers so two users can annotate a common document, the ability to take a snapshot of any portion of a document or import a multi-page file, and shared OLE. The latter allows changes made from within an application to affect the document in the onscreen notebook.
Only one copy of ProShare is needed. Recipients of a session can download Jump Start ProShare via modem from the sender to receive a connection.
For those who want to include video, the ProShare Personal Conferencing Video package adds audio and video via Indeo video compression technology. An onscreen keypad is used to dial up the other site. Video windows up to a quarter-screen in size contain the remote site and the user's video image. A mini-camera to mount on top of the monitor and an ear piece with a built-in microphone for hands-free operation are included in the package.
Creative Labs, Inc. also offers two desktop conferencing products. ShareVision PC300 features an audio compression card, external fax/modem, software and a headset. ShareVision PC3000 adds a color video camera and VideoBlaster RT300, a video capture and compression board.
Both run on analog phone lines rather than ISDN, switched 56 or T1 transmission lines. Users can collaborate on documents and share applications, utilize an interactive whiteboard, import images via scanners or video capture cards, and file information in an auto-dialing phonebook. Video capabilities; draw, paint and text tools; and the ability to store color images captured from either party's camera are PC3000 extras.
VISIT Video 2.0 is Northern Telecom's entry into what they term "personal multimedia conferencing." Two users can videoconference in full color via H.261 compression, share a computer screen and graphics tools to annotate documents, transfer files to another VISIT user, and control one's telephone and manage voice mail directly from the computer. The latter telephone tools are available as a separate application.
Of note is VISIT's ability to operate between Macintosh and Windows-based systems. VISIT Video uses either switched 56 or ISDN dial-up telephone lines and is also available in a grayscale version. The complete system bundles software, a color video camera, a VISIT Video base card and a color daughterboard. Multi-point conferencing should be available in early 1995.
Lastly, for administrators on the go, Dolch Computer Systems offers a portable, videoconferencing-ready platform. TelePAC is a portable 486 or Pentium computer outfitted with an adjustable video camera, high-fidelity sound system and microphone. RAM can be expanded to 64MB and hard drives are available up to 4 GB.
Ample slots are provided to integrate teleconferencing codecs and ISDN modems. The display and plug-in boards are shock mounted, making the Dolch unit ready for traveling.
And for those who just need the extra hardware, Sony Electronics offers two peripheral packages for teleconferencing. The PCS-V2 integrates a color video camera, microphone and speaker into a single unit that fits on top of a desktop monitor. The PCS-V4 adds full-duplex echo cancellation.
* Multi-Point Audio and More
Audioconferencing systems are also useful for distance learning and teleteaching environments. Users can speak and be heard at the same time in what is known as full-duplex conferencing. Half-duplex is when one person at a time must speak.
MultiLink has developed a full-duplex conferencing package for multi-point audiences. Their System 70 utilizes floating-point DSP technology, which implements, via software, many tasks that used to be hardware-controlled. Virtuall All Talker technology combines echo suppression and talk detection to reduce background noise.
Interactive features include polling and Q&A. Conferences can be scheduled up to one year in advance. Every system is equipped with a built-in modem for remote diagnostics.
System 70 supports direct T1, D4 or ESF input. Between 24 and 144 conference lines are supported, and several systems can be connected together. The UNIX-based software boasts three levels of access and report features that cover traffic statistics, alarms, system event logs and more.
The Harvard Elite line from A.T. Products, Inc. comprises various audioconferencing products. One side of the spectrum is the HE-PLUS, which includes the basic Harvard Elite product and adds a telephone handset interface, single-line telephone interface and one A31 microphone.
Their high-end product is the Harvard Super Elite with a telephone handset interface, singleline telephone interface, public address adjust, auxiliary-in jack, external speaker jack, record-out jack, one-way video/two-way audio interface (satellite), a dial pad, auto-answer and one A31 microphone.
A.T. Products also provides audio products that complement and enhance videoconferencing settings. The Harvard Elite-RM, for example, can be used for one-or two-way video distance learning applications and is compatible with codecs, telephone lines, satellites and four-wire networks.
Another audio system for videoconferencing is the Voicecrafter 3000 from Coherent Communications Systems Corp. The unit's wideband audio capacity and 16-bit sampling codec provide precise sound reproduction. Other technical highlights are unmatched echo cancellation, 270ms tail length and 50ms convergence rate. Voicecrafter boasts proprietary software and ASICs that provide full-duplex interactivity between microphones and speakers.
Lastly, POLYCOM, Inc. offers two systems for audioconferences boasting clear, echo-free transmission in two directions simultaneously for a natural talk flow.
Their latest, SoundStation EX, is a tabletop unit suited for large conference rooms. Incorporating a telephone keypad, three built-in unidirectional microphones plus sockets for two external mikes, the system picks up full-duplex sound in rooms up to 15' x 30'.
SoundStation EX performs all audio processing functions and is connected via a single cord to a wall module that contains power and telephone line interfaces. Any participant can control a conference call using a mute key on the mike. Wireless lavaliere microphones are optional.
Finally, a hybrid technology is audiographics, represented by WorldLinx' desktop system, VIS-A-VIS for Windows, DOS or Mac, which offers multi-point support. Students at remote locations listen to a lecture and view charts and slides on their computers. Anyone can ask a question, discuss and annotate documents or print out copies of the materials. Any number of participants are supported and each can connect using his or her choice of communications networks and protocols--NetBIOS or TCP/IP LANs, asynchronous networks via 9,600-baud modems, ISDN service or X.25 synchronous networks.
For conferences involving more than three people, the VIS-A-VIS Data Bridge software runs on a dedicated computer and links all participants. Single-line voice/data modems are also supported. Print-capture features can grab entire lessons and documents, or one can capture images from any part of the screen.
The technology is improving; costs are decreasing; applications abound. Teleconferencing is here to stay.
eclipse family Compression Labs, Inc. San Jose, CA
Write 901 on Inquiry Card
ShareVision Creative Labs, Inc. Milpitas, CA
Write 902 on Inquiry Card
MINX systems Datapoint Corp. San Antonio, TX
Write 903 on Inquiry Card
TelePAC Dolch Computer Systems Milpitas, CA
Write 904 on Inquiry Card
Communique! family InSoft, Inc. Mechanicsburg, PA
Write 905 on Inquiry Card
ProShare family Intel Corp. Santa Clara, CA
Write 906 on Inquiry Card
Videoworks NEC America Irving, TX
Write 907 on Inquiry Card
VISIT Northern Telecom Nashville, TN
Write 908 on Inquiry Card
Socrates; System 4000, etc. PictureTel Corp. Danvers, MA
Write 909 on Inquiry Card
PCS-V2 & PCS-V4 Sony Electronics, Inc. Montvale, NJ
Write 910 on Inquiry Card
BK MediaConferencing Systems; etc. VTEL Corp. Austin, TX
Write 911 on Inquiry Card
Document & Audio Conferencing
Harvard Elite family A.T. Products, Inc. Harvard, IL
Write 912 on Inquiry Card
Voicecrafter 3000 Coherent Communications Systems Corp. Leesburg, VA
Write 913 on Inquiry Card
System 70 MultiLink, Inc. Andover, MA
Write 914 on Inquiry Card
SoundStation EX POLYCOM, Inc. San Jose, CA
Write 915 on Inquiry Card
SMART 2000 family & SMART Bridge SMART Technologies, Inc. Calgary, Canada
Write 916 on Inquiry Card
VIS-A-VIS WorldLinx Telecommunications, Inc. Toronto, Canada
Write 917 on Inquiry Card
This directory reflects only those companies that responded to T.H.E.'s inquiries.
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|Publication:||T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1994|
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