As the owner of a business that supplies video conferencing technology, among other things, I’m frequently asked “Which system is best?” (even pre-coronavirus). And I’m always stumped how to reply. Not because I don’t know the answer but because there isn’t a right answer. It’s like asking “Which is best – cats or dogs?”
“The question I’m really being asked isn’t which product has the most innovative features or is the best value. It’s “Which product is best for me?”
After 20 odd years in the technology business, I’m familiar with all the main options out there – Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet (Hangouts), BlueJeans, to name a few. But I know the question I’m really being asked isn’t which product has the most useful features or is the best value. It’s “Which product is best for me?”
And the answer to that question will depend on many things. What do you intend to use it for? How many people to you expect to participate in your calls? Does it need to work with other applications, such as Microsoft Outlook or Salesforce? Does your business run on a Microsoft Windows or macOS platform? How often are you likely to arrange video conferences? And does your network have enough bandwidth?
The elements of a great video call are capable equipment, a robust network and the software used to tie it all together.
The three most important things to consider
Let’s start with the basics: your network. This is a crucial consideration because, unsurprisingly, video conferencing can add quite a bit of traffic to your network. What’s more, it’s a very demanding type of traffic. Like other real-time applications, video conferencing can tolerate only minimal delay and variation if it is to work properly. (If you’ve ever experienced the choppy, stuttering video that results from miserly bandwidth, you’ll know exactly what I mean).
Very simply put, bandwidth refers to how much data can be transmitted per second from the internet to your device. High bandwidth capabilities mean your internet can reach higher speeds, download and upload files faster and stream higher quality media. Remember that the more participants there are in the video conference call, the more bandwidth is needed.
Moving on to the hardware you’ll need, let’s first look at webcams. Being able to see subtleties like facial expressions and body language are crucial to quality video conferencing. Particularly if you’re aiming to recreate something resembling the environment of a physical team meeting. If details like these get lost, then meetings lack the authenticity of real-life, face-to-face interactions so a high-resolution webcam is essential.
Next, microphones. Most modern laptops have built-in microphones that are perfectly adequate for social use but may not be quite good enough for professional use – especially as we may be in lockdown and working from home for a while.
Microphones work by picking up on sound waves present in the environment. The more sensitive the microphone, the more sound waves it picks up. Since microphones don’t discriminate between sound waves that meeting participants want to hear (conversation) and the sounds nobody wants to hear (children squabbling, traffic and other background noise), you may find it’s a good idea to invest in headphones for your team members.
With headphones, the mic is perfectly positioned to pick up your voice while also being out of the way of your facial movements, which can result in rubbing and scratching sounds. In addition, many headsets also have noise-cancelling technology that actively blocks background sounds.
3. Video conferencing platform
While there are many video conferencing options today, the two most popular during lockdown seem to be Zoom and Microsoft Teams. I could write a (short) book on each of them but, to summarise, both support online meetings, chats, calls, screensharing and file sharing.
The main difference between the two is Microsoft’s integration between Teams and its Office 365 range, which allows for seamless collaboration, backups and file searches. However, where Zoom excels is its simplicity, which makes it easy to get end-users up and running with little or no training and IT support – a serious consideration in these socially-distanced times when the workforce may be spread far and wide.
Don’t know where to start?
Think about all these factors before you decide, ideally after taking expert advice. A platform with dozens of features you’ll never use could turn out to be a waste of money, but equally you need to ensure the video conferencing service you choose will provide all the features most important to you.
If you’re not sure where to start and would like to talk through your options, get in touch for a friendly chat!