Centras eMeeting 6.0 is a fairly full-featured package, with knowledge management-type features that distinguished it from the other products we looked at. The knowledge management features and the fact that eMeeting is one of a family of collaboration modules from Centra was very appealing to the judges in the education arena.
eMeeting 6.0 supports two-way VOIP (voice-over-IP) conferencing. In addition to being much cheaper than audio delivered over standard phone lines, VOIP affords presenters some interesting facilities for managing virtual meetings. In our tests, for example, the person speaking was indicated in the eMeeting interface, and the meeting presenter could enable audio for a selected attendee or allow as many as four attendees to speak simultaneously.
However, VOIP technology carries with it performance and stability limitations (see related story, VOIP Cuts the Cost of Web-Based Meetings). Representatives from Centra—tellingly, perhaps—opted to conduct the audio portion of their eVal demo via a standard conference call. However, eMeetings voice quality was acceptable during subsequent tests.
eMeeting also includes support for video, which generally worked well. As a presenter, we could enable, disable or pause the video stream, or pass these controls off to a Web-cam-equipped attendee. Video quality ranged from very choppy to something approaching smoothness.
As with most virtual meeting products, the presentation facilities of eMeeting revolve around Microsoft PowerPoint. eMeeting presenters can insert PowerPoint slides into their meetings, storing them in an area labeled Agenda. To do this, however, the presenter must have PowerPoint installed on his or her system.
To preserve animations and multimedia in PowerPoint, presentations must be saved in HTML format. However, eMeeting 6.0 does not support animations with PowerPoint 2002, the latest version of the application.
When a presenter wishes to share an attendee application, a request dialog pops up on the attendees display, providing the option to share one or more running applications. eMeeting also includes a Web-tour feature.
eMeeting offers its attendees a variety of options for interacting with one another and with meeting presenters. A raised-hand icon in the eMeeting tool bar enables attendees to enter a queue to speak over the microphone. Presenters can also pass the microphone from person to person in the queue.
eMeeting offers public and private chat functions, as well as buttons for yes, no, laughter and applause. The judges appreciate this level of "virtual emoting."
From the meeting creation page, users can set the time, date and duration of a meeting, as well as send meeting invites and set a password to protect the proceedings. The meeting eWeek Labs received was in the form of a vCal calendar file.
eMeeting supports only Windows but will work with Netscape or Internet Explorer. A 1.4MB plug-in application, called the CentraOne SmartClient, is required to attend and present in eMeeting meetings.
We could record entire eMeeting meetings, including audio, and make them available for streaming in a format proprietary to Centra. We could also download the meetings in Windows Media format.
Monthly pricing for an eMeeting Active Server Pages subscription starts at $80 per seat. Our judges appreciated the fact that Centra does not charge extra for branding.