Background And History Of Videoconferencing

by : Jason Cox

The year was 1964 and visitors to the Worlds Fair in New York were witness to a new contraption called the Picturephone, The idea of joining voice and video, 1 frame, every 2 seconds was first demonstrated in 1956 by AT and T, the telephone company founded by Alexander Graham Bell himself. Now instead of just hearing a disembodied voice at the other end of the line, a caller could see the person as well.

The concept of videoconferencing emerged. Whole groups of people could communicate across time and space, from the boardroom to the hospital, exchanging data, ideas, and visual presentations from anywhere to anywhere at anytime.

In 1970, the commercial Picturephone service debuted in downtown Pittsburgh and AT and T executives confidently predicted that a million Picturephone sets would be in use by 1980. But with prices basing at more than 160.00 USD per month, this new form of communication was well out of reach to most citizens. Besides, the equipment was bulky and slow, the controls were difficult to use, and the picture was so small the image could barely be recognized. Work continued outside AT and T resulting in the 1982 product release of the first vC system by Compression Labs.

The system was huge and used enormous resources capable of tripping 15 amp circuit breakers. The selling price for this VC system was 250,000 USD with a connection cost of 1,000 USD per hour. It was, however, the only working VC system available until PictureTel, a Delaware corporation, headquartered in Andover, Massachusetts, hit the market in 1986 with their substantially cheaper 80,000 USD system with 100 USD per hour lines.

Even in 1991, when PictureTel aligned with IBM to introduce a more costs reduced black and white video conferencing system, the price was well beyond the average user. This first PC based system held a 20,000 USD price tag with a line charge of 30.00 USD per hour but a new chapter in videoconferencing had begun.

Unfortunately, at this stage a conference room equipped with its equipment was required and not only did the participants of the video conference have to relocate to the same location, the cost of renting the videoconferencing room itself was exorbitant. The following year AT and T again introduced their new Videophone for the home market. Now it cost 1,500 USD but still the general public was, in general, excluded form the new service.

1992 saw Macintosh open with a videoconference system called CU SeeMe v0.1 for the personal computer. Although the first version did not have audio, it was the best video system developed to that point. By 1993, the MAC program had multipoint capability, and in 1994, CU SeeMe in Macintosh was a true video conferencing system with audio. As good as this system was, it was limited only to a Mac so developers worked day and night to create a CU SeeMe compatible with Windows, the most popular home based operating system.

This was accomplished with the April 1994 CU SeeME for Windows but it had no audio. Finally the CU SeeMe v0.66b1 for Windows was released in August of 1995 and now the speaker or speakers could not only see the person they were talking to, they could do this from the safety and convenience of their own office or home. The boom began and more high tech companies joined in the creation of videoconferencing software and equipment. By 1996, Microsoft NetMeeting v20.0b2 was released and videoconferencing became available to almost anyone with a home computer.

1996 also saw the emergence of VocalTec Surf and Call, the first web to phone plug in. Surf and Call allowed visitors of a website to conduct business, one on one, any place in the world as if a virtual salesclerk stood in the room with the buyer while families could log on to a family website and share more than just pictures in real time.

Finally, by 2000 Samsung released the first MPEG 4 streaming 3G video cell phone. Streaming means media that is consumed read, heard, viewed while it is being delivered, read live, and today the price of videoconferencing depends on the need. The average individual can now videoconference the whole world over for as little as 12.00 USD a month and the price of a phone while industry giants like Yahoo and MSN have made the service free.