Choosing Personal Videoconferencing Equipment Within Budget

by : Jason Cox

With the ease of making a long-distance telephone call you can be connected anywhere worldwide or to multiple locations around the globe. Videoconferencing cuts back on travel costs. The question should not be, is video conferencing for me. Rather, investigate options in choosing personal videoconferencing equipment with a budget.

So, you are ready to implement VC. Start by analyzing what kind of video conferencing you will be doing. Will it be person to person, or will there be several people involved. Your needs will dictate what equipment you will require to meet your videoconferencing outcome, and also what kind of network software you need to support your equipment. Next, you will need to set a budget. Costs can range from virtually free to an investment worth thousands of dollars. Finally, do your homework and find the products and services that will work best for you.

How you plan on using VC will influence your purchasing decisions, and can mean the difference in spending a hundred dollars or several thousand. A person-to-person conference can be done over the Internet using your desktop, a web cam and microphone using free software such as Yahoo or MSN Messenger.

All successful teleconferencing requires good equipment. After all, the video output you receive and send is the whole reason for having a videoconference. The first item on your purchasing agenda should be a good monitor. You can pick up a top-rated 15 inches LCD monitor for less than $400. On the higher end of the budget spectrum, a 21 inch LCD will set you back plenty. They discount for about $2500.

Several companies offer a decent utilitarian camera for under $150. Features to look for should include the ability to pan, tilt, and zoom often abbreviated as a PTZ camera, wide angle versus narrow angle lens, and manual focus versus auto-focus. Costs for cameras can range into the thousands. In addition to an Internet connection and camera, you will need good audio output and specialized software.

There is a wide range of microphones that can be used for videoconferencing, from a headset to room microphones. The inexpensive $2-3 tabletop computer microphones found in many stores usually produce unacceptable audio. On the other hand, expensive professional microphones with extensive frequency response wont make any difference in the audio quality. For personal videoconferencing, a headset is often the preferred choice because it can eliminate any echo or reverb effect. Plan on spending an average of $50 for a good headset. For room videoconferencing such as a seminar or an on-line class, a high quality multi-directional microphone is often used, or several smaller directional microphones are placed throughout the room. The price tag for a good omni directional system will run around $8,000.

The software plays a key role in determining the quality, reliability, and user-friendliness of the videoconference. There are simple software applications that work with a web cam and a headset, and are very fast to set up. They provide adequate quality. More important is their ease of use. Examples include NetMeeting and Web Ex. NetMeeting is free from Microsoft; Web Ex will run you twenty-five cents a minute.

You may need to investigate network software/hardware that will help ensure that bandwidth on the network will be dedicated to the videoconferences when they occur. Depending on your intranet is not enough. Purchase Quality of Service software or a hardware bridge to boost performance.

If your budget allows for it, consider using a company specializing in custom conferencing solutions. They can design a system to fit your needs, furnish your company with the perfect equipment, and install it for you. Other services include on-site training, troubleshooting, managing the system and generally optimizing your business communications environment.

Regardless of how much money you spend on equipment and services, one factor in your budgeting decision should be this: teleconferencing saves money. Used effectively, video conferencing has a direct effect on productivity. And although productivity increases are the most valuable, an additional tangible effect of using video is that you start saving money due to reduced travel. Video conferencing is money in the plus column of a budget sheet, something every company strives for.