2003 Tech Buying Guide
Videoconferencing systems have long been an expense better suited to large companies. But now that the Net offers an essentially free platform for video delivery to multiple sites, any business wanting to hold videoconferences can create Net-based "facilities." "Many [business users] see Web conferencing as taking over for video," says Joe Gagan, a senior analyst at research firm the Yankee Group. However, "quality is not guaranteed" on the Net, says Christine Perey, president of Perey Research and Consulting. She characterizes the current videoconferencing market as "uneven" -- which reflects feedback from Inc.com's "What's Your Technology Plan?" poll. In that survey, 69% of those responding do not feel their businesses would save time or money by making a videoconferencing investment. Are they buying laptops for their traveling employees instead?
STAY THE COURSE
Microsoft Windows XP [ www.microsoft.com]. It doesn't get any more economical than this. Because real-time voice, data, and video capabilities for an up to 10-person confab are built into the $299 operating system, videoconferencing really costs nothing more than the price of your Net connection (just add camera and microphone). A decent camera with adequate videocast resolution (320 x 240 pixel rate), wide angle and zoom features (important for zeroing in on those presentations), and a 30-frames-per-second capture rate will set you back approximately $100.
First Virtual Communications' Click to Meet Express [ www.fvc.com/eng/webconferencing] lets four or more conferencees on the Web do everything that more expensive private systems allow -- including such media-rich meeting capabilities as shared documents and PC presentations -- for much less. Get together with three of your colleagues for 15 one-hour meetings per month (or 3,600 minutes of meeting time) and you will pay roughly $591 per month over three years. (Budget in a camera, at a cost of approximately $100 for each user.) But the good news is that First Virtual claims the system pays for itself in about eight months. Click to Meet targets small groups at small- and medium-size businesses that frequently share documents, images, and presentations.
Sleek and aimed at the small to medium-size work place, the TANDBERG 1000 [ www.tandberg.net] is a flat-screen desktop videoconferencing system that can also be wall-mounted. Along with a 12.1-inch screen, this unit also offers wireless local-area network (LAN) support, embedded security, and PC compatibility for making presentations. Pricier than some of its counterparts, the TANDBERG 1000 lists between $5,490 and $8,980.
What to Ask
- How many people will be participating?
- What is the cost as compared with travel?
- How many cameras do I need?
- Do I have enough bandwidth to handle video?
Case In Point
THE NEED: LabMD, an Atlanta-based clinical testing lab, finds it cost- and time-prohibitive to have regular meetings and training sessions with its nationwide clients and its on-the-move reps, who work out of D.C., Atlanta, and Memphis. Mike Daugherty wanted to leverage the "essentially free" Net.
THE SOLUTION: Daugherty chose First Virtual Click to Meet Express, with Logitech 4000 cameras and high-speed Net access. Cost was key for him, and he also wanted a Web-based solution. Image and audio clarity were essential. "You don't want people to sound like they're underwater."
A LITTLE HINDSIGHT: "The marketplace has to get more bandwidth," he says.
NEXT TIME: He expects wireless advances to free up his sales reps to roam even more.
JUSTIFYING THE COST: LabMD bought the initial software directly from First Virtual, licensing it for $5,000 for five to 10 users. The Logitech cameras cost about $100 each. "As our sales force grows, it will cost me more," he says. "But the long-term savings are worth it. The Net flattens out all of the cost."
DON'T FORGET TO ASK: "'What do you know that I don't know?' Some distributors capitalize on your infant stage ... and take advantage." But vendors are often more interested in long-term relationships, Daugherty says. Their sales reps are generally more forthright.
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