Vi.Co.D.E. -About Video Conferencing-
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
Blog N° 3
Videoconferencing Platforms and Softwares.
A research on the subject made me realise that in order to provide a broader and more comprehensive picture of the topic, it was necessary to make a brief history of teleconferencing and establish some definitions.
From video telephony to videoconferencing
The history of videotelephony covers the historical development of several technologies which enable the use of live video in addition to voice telecommunications. The concept of videotelephony was first popularized in the late 1870s in both the United States and Europe, although the basic sciences to permit its very earliest trials would take nearly a half century to be discovered. This was first embodied in the device which came to be known as the video telephone, or videophone, and it evolved from intensive research and experimentation in several telecommunication fields, notably electrical telegraphy, telephony, radio, and television.
The development of the crucial video technology first started in the latter half of the 1920s in the United Kingdom and the United States, spurred notably by analog television broadcasting long before it could become practical—or popular—for videophones.
Videotelephony developed in parallel with conventional voice telephone systems from the mid-to-late 20th century. Very expensive videoconferencing systems rapidly evolved throughout the 1980s and 1990s from proprietary equipment, software and network requirements to standards-based technologies that were readily available to the general public at a reasonable cost. Only in the late 20th century with the advent of powerful video codecs combined with high-speed Internet broadband and ISDN service did videotelephony become a practical technology for regular use.
With the rapid improvements and popularity of the Internet, videotelephony has become widespread thru the deployment of video-enabled mobile phones, plus videoconferencing and computer webcams which utilize Internet telephony. In the upper echelons of government, business and commerce, telepresence technology, an advanced form of videoconferencing, has helped reduce the need to travel.
Videoconferencing: 1968 to present
Videoconferencing uses audio and video telecommunications to bring people at different sites together. This can be as simple as a conversation between people in private offices (point-to-point) or involve several (multipoint) sites in large rooms at multiple locations. Besides the audio and visual transmission of meeting activities, allied videoconferencing technologies can be used to share documents and display information on whiteboards.
Simple analog videophone communication could be established as early as the invention of the television. Such an antecedent usually consisted of two closed-circuit television systems connected via coax cable or radio. An example of that was the German Reich Postzentralamt (post office) video telephone network serving Berlin and several German cities via coaxial cables between 1936 and 1940.
During the first manned space flights, NASA used two radio-frequency (UHF or VHF) video links, one in each direction. TV channels routinely use this type of videotelephony when reporting from distant locations. The news media were to become regular users of mobile links to satellites using specially equipped trucks, and much later via special satellite videophones in a briefcase.
This technique was very expensive, though, and could not be used for applications such as telemedicine, distance education, and business meetings. Attempts at using normal telephony networks to transmit slow-scan video, such as the first systems developed by AT&T Corporation, first researched in the 1950s, failed mostly due to the poor picture quality and the lack of efficient video compression techniques. The greater 1 MHz bandwidth and 6 Mbit/s bit rate of the Picturephone in the 1970s also did not achieve commercial success, mostly due to its high cost, but also due to a lack of network effect —with only a few hundred Picturephones in the world, users had extremely few contacts they could actually call to, and interoperability with other videophone systems would not exist for decades.
It was only in the 1980s that digital telephony transmission networks became possible, such as with ISDN networks, assuring a minimum bit rate (usually 128 kilobits/s) for compressed video and audio transmission. During this time, there was also research into other forms of digital video and audio communication. Many of these technologies, such as the Media space, are not as widely used today as videoconferencing but were still an important area of research.The first dedicated systems started to appear in the market as ISDN networks were expanding throughout the world.
In 1984, Concept Communication in the US replaced the heavy, approximately 45 kilograms, and expensive computers needed for teleconferencing with an affordable circuit that doubled the video frame rate from 15 to 30 frames per second, and reduced the equipment to the size of a circuit that fit on standard personal computers. The company also obtained a patent for a codec for full-motion video conferencing, first demonstrated at AT&T's Bell Labs in 1986.
Videoconferencing systems throughout the 1990s rapidly evolved from very expensive proprietary equipment, software and network requirements to a standards-based technology readily available to the general public at a reasonable cost.
Finally, in the 1990s, Internet Protocol-based videoconferencing became possible, and more efficient video compression technologies were developed, permitting desktop, or personal computer (PC)-based videoconferencing.
In 1992 CU-SeeMe was developed at Cornell by Tim Dorcey et al. In 1995 the first public videoconference between North America and Africa took place, linking a technofair in San Francisco with a techno-rave and cyberdeli in Cape Town. At the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Nagano, Japan, Seiji Ozawa conducted the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony simultaneously across five continents in near-real time.
While videoconferencing technology was initially used primarily within internal corporate communication networks, one of the first community service usages of the technology started in 1992 through a unique partnership with PictureTel and IBM Corporations which at the time were promoting a jointly developed desktop based videoconferencing product known as the PCS/1. Over the next 15 years, Project DIANE (Diversified Information and Assistance Network) grew to utilize a variety of videoconferencing platforms to create a multi-state cooperative public service and distance education network consisting of several hundred schools, neighborhood centers, libraries, science museums, zoos and parks, public assistance centers, and other community oriented organizations.
However, we have to wait until the new millennium for new technologies to provide products that are accessible to all users. In the meantime, besides technologies, the way people communicate is also changing.
In the 2000s, videotelephony was popularized via free Internet services such as Skype and iChat, web plugins and on-line telecommunication programs that promoted low cost, albeit lower-quality, videoconferencing to virtually every location with an Internet connection.
In May 2005, the first high definition video conferencing systems, produced by LifeSize Communications, were displayed at the Interop trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada, able to provide video at 30 frames per second with a 1280 by 720 display resolution.
Polycom introduced its first high definition video conferencing system to the market in 2006. As of the 2010s, high definition resolution for videoconferencing became a popular feature, with most major suppliers in the videoconferencing market offering it.
Technological developments by videoconferencing developers in the 2010s have extended the capabilities of video conferencing systems beyond the boardroom for use with hand-held mobile devices that combine the use of video, audio and on-screen drawing capabilities broadcasting in real-time over secure networks, independent of location. Mobile collaboration systems now allow multiple people in previously unreachable locations, such as workers on an off-shore oil rig, the ability to view and discuss issues with colleagues thousands of miles away. Traditional videoconferencing system manufacturers have begun providing mobile applications as well, such as those that allow for live and still image streaming.
Although not as widely used in everyday communications as audio-only and text communication, useful applications include sign language transmission for deaf and speech-impaired people, distance education, telemedicine, and overcoming mobility issues.
Nowadays, there are tools and platforms accessible to everyone, allowing to communicate with anyone in the world in real time. At least, as far as Western countries are concerned.
The same has not happened in the world of work, where videoconferencing is still a means of supporting communication and rarely replaces face-to-face work.
The pandemic triggered by the SARS Covid-19 virus has accelerated and completed in a year and a half a process that started more than 150 years ago and has definitely changed our behaviour and attitude towards the work environment.
The image below shows the peak growth of video conferencing after the pandemic.
A statistical study by the European institute Eurostat. (Fig. 1)