Radvision Bridges Videoconferencing Divide

Scopia Conferencing Platform manages to coax disparate conference room and desktop videoconferencing solutions into relative harmony.

With Scopia Desktop, Radvision extends an affordable, highly scalable and robust videoconferencing solution to Windows-based desktops. However, Radvision's real value derives from its Scopia Conferencing Platform's ability to tie together its customers' disparate investments in conference room video systems and desktop conferencing solutions that previously would not play nicely together.

I tested Radvision's Scopia Conferencing Platform 5.5, which included the Scopia 100-24 MCU appliance (which does all the media transcoding and supports both SIP and H.323), the iView Management Suite (a Windows Server 2003-based application through which all conferences are created and scheduled) and the Scopia Desktop solution (which provides audio and videoconferencing plus H.239 data presentation capabilities on Windows-based desktops). The Scopia platform also offers the ability to integrate with third-party desktop conferencing solutions like Microsoft Office Communications Server or IBM Lotus Sametime, or HD conference solutions like those from LifeSize Communications.

Best of all, since the MCU provides per-connection transcoding, Scopia will not down-mix HD endpoints when Standard Definition endpoints join a conference, allowing all endpoints to utilize the best resolution supported by the device and the network.

Licensing for the Scopia 100-24 is surprisingly straightforward, as the base price includes all relevant licenses and connection types. For the $50,000 list price, the Scopia 100-24 supports up to (or a combination of) 16 High Definition ports, 24 Standard Definition ports, 48 Scopia Desktop connections, 72 audio-only connections or 144 streaming connections. This standard license includes the ability to integrate with third-party desktop and room-based conferencing solutions, plus the license for Radvision's iView management and scheduling suite (although companies with multiple Radvision MCU appliances will need to pay extra for iView).

The Scopia Desktop client utilizes the user's standard Webcam and headset, allowing users to participate in videoconferences without a significant hardware investment for desktop equipment. In addition to audio or videoconferencing, Scopia Desktop users have access to H.239-compliant data presentations (allowing the conference mediator to share an application or their entire desktop or pass control to another user), text chat and conference moderation .

The Scopia Desktop software can be downloaded and installed directly from the conference log-in page, and can be installed on as many PCs as you want-keeping in mind that the 100-24 MCU will only support 48 active users at one time. Scopia Desktop also provides built-in NAT (Network Address Translation) and firewall traversal capabilities, making it easy to join and participate in conferences without worrying about the local network setup.

At the time of my tests, Scopia Desktop only provided an SD video feed to users, but with the recently announced Version 5.6, users can view 720p High Definition feeds emanating from HD conference room equipment. The new version also gives Scopia Desktop users the ability to record audio, video and data presentations.

Radvision aimed to provide a familiar communications experience to OCS users, so it added a Scopia log-in to the Office Communicator interface. From the bottom of the Communicator dialog box, I could log directly in to a Radvision conference-or, more specifically, I could signal the Radvision equipment to call me back so I could join the videoconference. Once joined, I could see and speak to Scopia Desktop users-as well as conference room systems-but I could not view presentations or shared desktops, as the integration does not yet extend to H.239 data collaborations

Enabling the OCS integration requires some modifications: on the Scopia MCU, in OCS and on the OCS client machine. Oddly, Radvision's documentation instructs administrators to create a communication channel directly between the Radvision equipment and the primary OCS server, rather than using the OCS mediation server. This meant that I had to manually ensure that the MCU prioritizes codecs that OCS supports natively (722.1), as the OCS server can not transcode to another codec when the mediation server is not used.

At the desktop, I had to distribute registry changes to OCS clients to enable the Scopia plug-in in Communicator and add the Scopia iView server to the Internet Explorer Trusted Zone because the plug-in is enabled via XML. Microsoft desktop administrators will find it easy to deploy these changes via their standard software deployment tools, even if Radvision hasn't done anything special to package up these changes for delivery.

Radvision also offers an option for users that need join the conference remotely from unmanaged machines. Remote users can view a stream of the videoconference and presentation via a QuickTime-enabled Web browser. In tests, I found the QuickTime stream lagged significantly behind the live presentation (which is not a big deal), but was also highly sensitive to network conditions. Several times I noticed that the streaming audio and video got significantly out of sync (up to 10 seconds' separation at times) when the network became somewhat congested or I needed to traverse a firewall that Scopia Desktop had no trouble navigating.