By: Frank Ohlhorst dnu
Businesses have been promised affordable, reliable and easy-to-use video conferencing for years. Most solutions on the market, however, turn out to be more hassle than they are worth. Avistar has been able to deliver where others have not with Avistar C3, a family of products that brings high-definition, multiparty video conferencing to most any business desktop.
Unlike cloud-based or cloud-hosted solutions, Avistar C3 uses a client/server approach to build a video conferencing system. That approach gives a business full control over how, when and where to deploy video conferencing and also provides a means to do in-house conferencing (desk-to-desk, conference-room-to-conference-room) without passing out any information over a public Internet connection. What's more, that approach eliminates the "on-demand" and subscription fees associated with hosted video conferencing services while giving administrators control over bandwidth, security and connectivity.
Avistar offers several bundles under the C3 product line, including bundles designed to integrate with Microsoft OCS, HP RGS and Citrix ICA, as well as standalone bundles, such as C3 Communicator, C3 Conference and C3 Connectâeach of which varies in the included components, number of sessions supported and overall feature sets.
I took an in-depth look at Avistar's C3 Business Pro Edition, which is an integrated bundle of the company's C3 Endpoint (desktop client), C3 Call Control (server), C3 Tunnel (encryption), C3 Conference (Interoperability Bridge) and C3 Command (Management and direction console).
All in all, Avistar's take on desktop video conferencing is a leap forward that stands to make this technology much more palatable to business users. By changing some licensing elements and how the product is bundled, Avistar could truly have a market leader on their hands that would become the first choice for desktop video conferencing for business both large and small.
Testing Avistar C3
Getting started with Avistar's C3 Business Pro Edition was surprisingly easy; a single installation wizard handles installation of all components onto a Windows Server (Windows Server 2003 or later), needing little-to-no input from the person doing the installation. Of course, you can skip using the default settings if you want to change paths, ports or other elements. The only installation chores you must do is assign a domain and create an administrative level userâbetter integration with active directory would be a real plus here, keeping administrative (and user) accounts synced up with the product.
Once the main elements of Avistar's C3 Business Pro Edition is installed, the next steps include some basic configuration chores, such as installing a license, configuring SIP connectivity, creating a Tunnel for access and setting up some user accounts. None of those elements proved to be overly complicated or difficult to accomplishâsomewhat of a rarity when it comes to self-hosted video conferencing solutions.
I found the product's management consoles easy to understand and use. For example, the Call Control console is laid out using a hierarchical menu structure with simple-to-identify choices, such as "Monitoring," "Configuration" and "Users." What I liked most is that I did not need to be an expert in video conferencing or networking to manage the system.
While setup and management is a very important element of Avistar's C3 Business Pro Edition, it really comes down to the user experience to judge the product. Here, Avistar did not disappoint. The system works using a software client that is installed on each PC; every PC must be equipped with a quality Web cam and sound card.
For my testing, I used a pair of Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 Web cams, as well as some integrated cameras on a few Toshiba and Fujitsu notebook computers. I also did a multiuser conference with five representatives from AvistarâI did not know the exact configuration of their PCs, other than they were running Windows. Nonetheless, video and audio proved to be exceptional, at least on a wired connection.
I tested the windows version of Avistar's C3 Communicator on several different systems, under both Windows 7 Ultimate 64 Bit and Windows 7 Ultimate 32 Bit. The application was very simple to install, thanks to an installation wizard. However, the product installs as a trial version (works for 30 days) until you install a license file, which does complicate things a littleâa better way to handle licensing would be on the server side of the install and then eliminate the need for a local license, which would be simpler and also allow temporary users to participate in conferences.
Several other settings must also be configured, including settings for SIP, Tunneling (Firewall Transversal), proxies and so onâhere, an auto-configuration file that you could download from the server would be a nice touch.
Once setup is completed, C3 Communicator is ready to use and here is where ease of use enters the equation. C3 Communicator starts off with an address book, where you would add all contacts. These contacts can be looked up using the global directory option (if you integrated LDAP), where all registered users are listed. It becomes a simple matter of point and click to build your address book.
Starting a video call is much like making a VOIP (voice-over-IP) call; just select who you want to call from the directory and click "call"âthe rest happens automatically. The software will "ring" your contact's desktop and connect the call if the contact answers. Adding additional members to a conference just entails calling them using the software.
Another interesting feature, which is new with this version of Communicator, is the ability to share a desktopâhere a participant can click an icon, which allows him or her to share a desktop with other callers. That proves to be a great way to run slide shows, demonstrate procedures or train participants. However, bear in mind that desktop sharing only offers basic sharing capabilities and is not an effective tech support or remote troubleshooting tool.
The actual experience of making a video call is very goodâAvistar incorporates bandwidth controls, advanced compression and other techniques to offer high-quality video and fast frame rates, even over remote broadband connections. I found the experience of video chatting with multiple participants to be superior to other technologies I have used in the past. Video came across with high-definition, and audio was crisp and clear, even when I was chatting with five other users over a broadband connection.