Vendors have done significant work to differentiate their implementations, particularly to bring HD video and audio to the fore and create innovative ways to use less bandwidth to deliver that quality. However, this differentiation contributes to a lack of interoperability.
Take, for instance, Radvision's recent announcement that it will be implementing H.264 SVC (Scalable Video Coding) in forthcoming versions of its Scopia conferencing equipment and desktop client software. SVC adds a multilayered element to the H.264 standard, effectively creating a thin base layer of content to which additional layers can be added to boost resolution, video quality and frame rate. That way, in lossy networks, the base layer can be more easily transmitted to provide a smooth, glitch-free transmission at a base quality level, with enhancements added as possible given network conditions.
Although SVC was ratified as part of the H.264 standard a few years ago, issues surrounding signaling have yet to be agreed upon, so don't expect interoperability with any of the few other SVC-capable products available today (such as those made by Vidyo). However, Radvision does promise that its SVC-enabled systems will continue to interoperate with other vendors' gear that supports the regular H.264.
Of course, the testing scenario I pursued here is rather simplistic when considering business use cases. Point-to-point connectivity between two video conferencing room systems will have its place, but meetings will more often than not need to have multiple participants attending from many locations. In my tests, I was able to simulate some of that perspective-conferencing a total of four endpoints together (via LifeSize Room 200's six-party Multipoint Control Unit).
But as video needs grow, more room systems need to join a meeting or desktop video clients need to be pulled into the mix, video conferencing customers will need to look into purchasing stand-alone MCU devices. These devices may come in the form of hardware, like Radvision's Scopia conferencing platforms, or they may come as software to be installed on commodity server hardware, like Avistar Communications' Avistar C3 Conference. But it falls to the vendors of these MCU devices to ensure interoperability at native resolution with as many endpoints-be they room or desktop solutions-as possible.
Of course, in a case where many partners have similar small-scale video conferencing initiatives, the question becomes one of who will pay for the MCU through which everyone can join the conference. Thankfully, there are some hosted MCU solutions available in the cloud that can provide that service for a fee.
Senior Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at [email protected]