You're staring at your iPad 2 screen, at what looks like four pictures of four coworkers quartering the display. And then one of them waves at you. And you wave back. And the videoconference starts.
This is mobile videoconferencing brought to you not-quite-yet by Vidyo. Its VidyoMobile software has been demonstrated at various venues this year starting with the Consumer Electronics Show. The buzz around the product got another boost this week at Interop 2011 in Las Vegas, where it was formally announced and it also won the Best of Interop Award in the "collaboration" category.
The product is essentially a port of Vidyo's existing Mac/PC client to iOS and Android, for smartphones and tablets. Previously, the vendor extended its software development kit to allow mobile devices to join a videoconference of participants using PC-based and room-based video systems.
With VidyoMobile, mobile users can conference with other mobile users over Wi-Fi or 3G/4G connections.
In the port, the full client loses a few things along the way: currently only the four most-recent speakers appear on the smaller tablet screen (though 100 can be conferenced at once), and you can't share data from the iPad, though the iPad user can still view data shared by other parties.
But it apparently has not lost battery efficiency. In tests by the vendor, VidyoMobile on the iPad 2 "lasts six hours with straight videoconferencing," says Young-Sae Song, Vidyo's vice president of product marketing. Perhaps optimistically, he added, "No one is going to videoconference for six hours."
A demonstration at Vidyo's Interop booth shows an iPad 2 with four participants in a live link. The video is 720p high-definition, with resolution up to VGA on mobile devices. Turn the tablet sideways, and the screen re-orientates. Faces can be changed in size and location with touches. (You can see a Youtube video from the vendor.)
In general, mobile clients download the appropriate VidyoMobile app, which is authenticated via a URL through the appliance-based VidyoPortal application to a company's VidyoRouter, which interconnects the participants. The router eliminates the need for conventional multi-point conferencing units (MCU). Both the portal and router boxes connect to the existing enterprise network via Ethernet. There's also a proxy application to support the connection through a corporate firewall.
VidyoRouter is the server software that makes it possible to sustain high-definition, low latency video over existing corporate networks. The software uses what the vendor calls Adaptive Video Layering (AVL), which constantly optimizes the video quality and resolution for each individual endpoint, and the network connection for each endpoint. This approach is based on the H.264 Scaleable Video Coding standard, an extension to H.264/MPEG4 video compression standard. (Wikipedia has a short but technical overview.)
VidyoMobile extends this over cellular and Wi-Fi connections to iOS and Android mobile devices. It's free to download, but as an enterprise-focused product, it requires an endpoint license of $5 per person. With the licenses for the associated Vidyo infrastructure components, the price per user is about $100, according to the company. It is due to ship in July.
IOS supports Apple's FaceTime video chat, a one-to-one video call. But extending that to multiple parties is hard work, according to Vidyo's Song. Skype offers one-to-one video calls on mobile devices, but not group videoconferences. Google's Gmail video chat also is one-to-one, but Google licenses Vidyo's software so it could be group-enabled in the future, Song says.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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