Advanced Multi-Media, EME
Audio-Video Conferencing and Internet Telephony
Features of Audio/Video Conferencing Systems
Audio/Video Conferencing Systems
More than any
other aspect of computer technology, desktop audio/video conferencing is
the most likely to bring the remaining 'dinosaurs' through the 21st century
gateway to global connectivity. For families and
individuals with friends and loved ones spread far and wide, the immediacy
and intimacy of this type of communication offers an utterly compelling
reason to hop on-line. For long-distance telephone consumers the financial
savings potential presents a must-have demand that is far too easily accomplished
to be delayed. Many talk of the future of communications - a time when
we will be able to see as well as hear our telephone partners - but few
realize that such a time is already here.
Right now, with a 28,8 modem,
free and beta versions of audio conferencing software can be downloaded
in 16 minutes or less. A ten dollar microphone gives you audio communications
at the cost of a local telephone call. Go shopping this evening
for a two hundred dollar 'eye-ball camera' and you can have a color video-phone-call
this very night. It's almost too simple and cost-saving not to do.
Features of Audio/Video Conferencing Systems
The feature that all of the audio
and video products and packages share is the technology of Internet
telephony. The primary goal of these systems is to provide simultaneous
(real-time) communications through voice audio at a minimum and through
smooth full-motion color video at the ideal. The Internet has already been
shown to allow simultaneous text communications through 'chat-rooms, MOOs,
MUDs and bulletin boards'. The following are features offered by many conferencing
packages that apply Internet telephony technology.
Full Duplex voice
communication operation with automatic voice detection - allows two or
more people to talk simultaneously over the Internet, just like over a
regular phone, reminiscent of a 'party line' conversation.
Text Chat tools let
speakers type in their contributions even while they or someone else is
speaking. Chat text transmission ensures delivery of the speaker's exact
words and gives all participants a written record of the proceedings.
Streaming Video exchange
allows real-time viewing of conversation partners. The quality of the moving
images depends upon the speed of the connection, but since video conferencing
generally entails seated people viewing other people who are also seated
in front of their computer monitors, the amount of action is minimal. The
movie, therefore, appears smooth and natural. Facial expressions and gestures
can be transmitted in sync with the audio. Most importantly, video communication
allows the participants to see when their partners are busy typing, or
looking away from the monitor, etc., which saves the constant questioning:
"are you still there?"
Whiteboard Sharing allows
users to collaborate on a single worksheet with text tools, drawing tools
and other graphic media.
File Transfer through
an Internet telephony system means that the sender can immediately verify
receipt of the transferred files and objects. Participants can send each
other graphics, sound files, executable files, code, etc., while still
in voice/video contact.
Application sharing means
that users can share software programs even when only one of the participants
actually has that application installed on their computer. This features
enables participants to surf the Internet in tandem when one user acts
as the leader.
Using the Internet for any and all
functions of a normal telephone includes real-time synchronous audio, answering
machine, speed dial, caller ID, call forwarding, automatic dialing, voice
mail, etc., and it combines those capabilities with video, graphic, text
and other data transfer protocols. Few of the existing conferencing packages
strive to achieve all of those results, but between them, the complete
technology is already in use and functioning well.
Audio/Video Conferencing Systems
Two of the premier applications
for A/V conferencing are NetMeeting
from Microsoft and Internet Phone
from Vocaltec. They are considered premier not just because they have big
parent companies, but because of the range of features they offer and the
ease with which those features may be integrated with other (existing and
coming) applications and hardware. A third product, Internet PhoneJACK
from Quicknet is a hardware package included as premier because it allows
existing telephone equipment to be adapted for new techological functions.
What Microsoft offers, as a telephony service provider, is a small
network, or huge Intranet, if you will (WAN), that callers dial into and
log-on to one of the many interconnected mail-servers. Connected callers
may then speak, see and share applications in pairs or in large group conferences.
Their software, NetMeeting
provides full duplex audio, video and text chat conferencing for private,
pair and group meetings. Whiteboard and full application sharing capabilities
expand the usefulness of this application to nearly any field or function.
Phone Release 4 for the PC. Like Netmeeting, the features of Vocaltec's
Internet Phone include text chat, file exchange, real-time document sharing
and audio/video streaming. Unique features include:
- Voice Mail to get in touch with others who are off-line.
- Cross-Platform Capabilities lets Macintosh and PC users
talk to one another.
- All the amenities of a full-featured phone; Call Holding,
Call Waiting, Muting, Blocking, Caller I.D., Call Screening, and Directory
Assistance Direct Calling.
- Animated Assistant brings the screen to life and lets
you know whats going on every step of the way.
- Automatic Voice Activation optimizes voice transmission
quality automatically, maximizing the performance of each call.
Release 5 (August 1997) adds the very attractive
feature of "PC to Phone" capability. That means the software
user can call any phone number in the world and have real-time conversation
with a user of a simple telephone. (Yes, that means virtually free long-distance
calls with only one party in possession of a computer.) Release 5 is available
to download for a free 2-week trial. It's over 8 meg and it expires automatically.
is a software and
hardware company focused on increasing the quality of internet telephone
calls in addition to enabling businesses and individuals to reduce their
long distance charges.
- Their product, Internet
PhoneJACK, an inexpensive telephony card ($199), integrates with above
mentioned software to allow your familiar phone to make and receive Internet
phone calls. Plug a standard analog telephone, handset or headset into
the Internet PhoneJACK and the audio portion of the Internet call is as
private and quiet as a regular call. The attached telephone will ring when
a call arrives and automatically launch a favorite Internet phone application
when the handset is lifted. A microphone and speakers will turn a standard
telephone call into a real-time teleconference at an Internet rate (i.e.
local call price). If you are a home PC user with a single telephone line
and modem, being able to receive regular calls via the Internet through
PhoneJack means your regular phone line is open even while you are on-line.
- 'Hop-Off' Services Services that let you make
a call to a regular telephone using the Internet are called "Hop-Off
Services". When you use these with Internet PhoneJACK you can make
a call from a normal phone to a normal phone using the Internet as your
connection, bypassing all but the local phone service.
The following is an example of a Hop-Off service that
integrates to create PC-to-Phone telephony.
- Net2Phone developed
by IDT Corporation makes it possible to place domestic and international
calls from a personal computer to any telephone in the world. Net2Phone
enables any Internet user with a sound-equipped PC to initiate calls from
a computer and transmit them over the Internet to IDT's central telephone
switch. The switch instantly and automatically relays the call to its final
destination - any telephone. Users are not limited to PC-to-PC technology
which requires both parties to have access to multimedia equipped computers
running identical software. It is no longer necessary for both parties
to be online at the time of the call either by coincidence or pre-arrangement.
Only the caller needs a PC with an Internet connection.
Conferencing Software Applications
There are many products and packages that enable audio
and/or video conferencing. Some of them provide necessary hardware (sound
card, microphone, etc.) and some offer only the software that integrates
with hardware presumably installed in the user's PC or workstation. Some
systems operate as service providers which means that they route
communications data through their own central switch. Here follows a list
of software packages with descriptions of their unique features and capabilities.
A Netscape Helper Application tool utilizing real-time audio and data collaborationfor
the Internet. Full-duplex audio conferencing, chat tool and whiteboard
is the conferencing software designed to work with VideoTalk
hardware to form a complete Internet telephony package. (see below)
Internet Video Phone Several products from Intel combine to
provide an extensive integrated telecommunications environment especially
suited to graphics, photo and video sharing: Intel
Create-and-Share Phone pack contains hardware (digital imaging camera,
video capture card, and 56,6 modem) along with software including the Intel
Video-Phone. Features unique to this system involve collaborative creation
and sharing of video and graphic imaging applications.
Phone is an audio-conferencing tool for the Internet developed
by members of the High-Speed Networking group at INRIA
(video-conferencing) within the MERCI
(Multimedia European Research Conferencing Integration) project.
from FreeTel Communications High-quality sound
audio conferencing. Text chat and file-transfer. The software is free if
you will put up with advertising or $39.95 if you want to disable the ads.
Talk Multi-party voice conferencing support - GatherTalk supports
private, point-to-point and group conferencing of up to 5 people using
28.8kbps modems and more through ISDN and LAN connections. All connections
are direct and an asynchronous mixer is used to allow all people able to
speak at anytime. Although Gather Talk does not currently support application
sharing, it does have whiteboard and OLE sharing, chat and most recently
(9/18/97) video conferencing. Beta versions are free to download for two-week
trials and registered versions are inexpensive (2 licenses for $29.95).
Call From the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Internet CALL is
a very easy-to-use Internet phone software supporting long distance calls
without long distance call charges. Full-duplex/half-duplex support. Beta
versions are free to download.
- IRIS Phone
IRIS Phone emulates a normal phone call without long-distance charges.
It does offer live video exchange, but at 28.8 bps it is only 5 fps. The
real draw of this system is the range of telephonic features: Global white
pages search, personal speed-dial phonebook, full-duplex real-time conversations,
conversation recording, caller ID, photo and info display, answering machine,
send and receive voice and video mail, accept a second call while conversing,
Web based calling, and the telemarketer's joy, call queue with auto redial.
Download for 2-week free trial or pay from $5 to $14 for registered licenses.
Talk is a full commercial package of hardware and software creating
a tightly controlled sound and audio communications system. It is mainly
for music and sound engineering projects but it is included here because
among all its other functions, the system provides full duplex audio-conferencing
with a high degree of sound quality and control.
which stands for Pretty Good Privacy Phone, is a software package that
turns a computer into a secure telephone. It uses speech compression and
strong cryptography protocols to offer real-time private, point-to-point
telephone conversation via Internet or LAN connection. Beta versions are
distributed by MIT and commercial versions are available through Phil's
Pretty Good Privacy, Inc.
- PowWow offers
a WAN for text chat and voice communications, text and graphic file transfer
and synchronized web surfing. PowWow is free, and has the following unique
features: text to speech, multiple private chat modes and a search engine
for other users within the WAN based on geographic location, age, sex,
profession, specific interests, and other profile information.
is a complete video conferencing and Internet telephony package comprised
of four major components - a plug and play video capture card; a color
video camera; the DigiPhone software,
and a mike and speaker handset that functions just like a traditional telephone
receiver but is specially developed for use with Internet telephony systems.
The unique and most impressive feature of this system is in the design
for future adaptability. Although the system is packaged with all necessary
components, it is compatible with all standards based conferencing equipment.
The design resists obsolescence because it allows users and developers
to add new software functionality and external hardware devices as they
VS700S Series from Fujitsu and Latitude
Communications offers MeetingPlace, a package of Windows NT-based graphic,
audio and video presentation conference software that integrates with an
organization's web server. Participants can schedule conferences and access
conference recordings from any web browser. Special features include speaker-activated
camera positioning which automatically directs the ViewNet’s pan/tilt/zoom
camera to locate and focus on the conference speaker. ViewNet’s composite
screen feature allows you to incorporate dynamic, real-time graphics (eg.
character generator, digital photos, etc.) with a close-up view of a presenter,
using a single monitor to deliver both context and communication.
Offices is a service through which businesses,
organizations and individuals can communicate as if it were "their
own private intranet". The system provides live audio and full motion
video conferencing, chat rooms, message bases, etc. Virtual Office's unique
feature is the ability to adjust the video image size. Service membership
is free when you fill out an application and the 4 meg. interface software
is also free to download. Setup is very simple.
Resources for Information about Internet Audio/Video telephony
Glossary of Internet Telephony Terms
review of web phones (10/16/96)
audio and video software directory
guide to Internet Telephony
Dog's Internet Conferencing
over the Internet.
(09/96) Article and diagram of a gateway connection scheme.
While the above list represents
a myriad of ways to use Internet telephony for conference and private communications,
it also represents the infancy of the technology. Nearly every system relies
on its participants being joined into an Intranet or WAN or to be linked
through a central switching server. Most of the assorted products offer
equivalent features but, rather than attempt a joint effort at standardization,
each product is jockying to be in the most popular position when the field
gets narrowed down. No two software applications will, as yet, 'talk' to
one another. Since most of the applications are offered free or at minimal
expense, it is an easy matter to make a connection through any system,
but without a common protocol for audio/video transmission, the participants
must agree on a single system and restrict their 'telephone books' to users
who possess the same conferencing packages. It is inevitable that, with
such technology available, the telephone and the Internet will become irreversably
entwined. A caller will be able to initiate communication from a telephone,
a workstation, a PC, a laptop, a cellular phone, or some as-yet-to-be-invented
device and to send and receive live or delayed audio, video, text, graphic
or other data transmissions restricted only by the hardware at the participant's
end and not by the network through which the data is sent.
At that time, Internet telephony will be able to stand and make its first
real steps toward the maturity of communications technology.