In terms of a pre-flight checklist for videoconferencing here are the crucial steps.
Make sure that both sides of the call are intending to use the same method of communication, for example IP or ISDN.
It is possible to use different types, but this must be arranged beforehand and must go through what is called a “bridging provider”. These bridging services incur additional cost as they typically charge by the minute or by data volume consumed and are not typically available on an ad-hoc basis, and so must be pre-arranged, therefore it is always better to avoid the risk of failure by knowing the connection type beforehand.
If multiple parties are to be joined together in a call, either a bridging service must be used or one of the participants must have a unit that is capable of multipoint calling.
It is also possible to bridge IP and ISDN calls within a videoconference device itself, so the videoconference unit can dial out to both IP and ISDN participants, performing the role of a bridging service, but this requires both IP and ISDN connectivity at the master site where a multipoint-capable videoconference unit is located.
Communicate with the IT or communications provider in your venue to make sure that they are able to provide the videoconferencing unit with working ISDN lines in the case of ISDN connectivity, or an IP connection with a public IP address, not one which is behind a NAT router or firewall.
If using IP communications, this second requirement can be negated by using a bespoke piece of technology which I have developed called PUNCH! In this case it is possible to bypass a major technical hurdle to IP videoconferencing and directly provide the videoconference unit with a publicly-accessible IP address without the need for opening up firewall ports or communicating with IT departments who are sometimes reluctant or unable to open up firewall ports or provide public IP addresses to devices within their network. All that is required for PUNCH! to work is an ordinary internet connection, with sufficient bandwidth (in excess of 1 Megabit up and down) and ideally no login-screen requirement to access the internet, although the system will work if a suitable login is provided.
PUNCH! has the additional benefit of working with wireless internet connections, although this is not recommended as a cabled connection will always be more reliable than a wireless one and is subject to far fewer sources of interference and performance-degrading issues.
Check whether the video call will need to have Powerpoint, Keynote or another computer-sourced video image sent or received alongside the main camera image.
If this is the case then you may (depending on your choice of videoconference hardware) need an additional piece of hardware which works in tandem with the main videoconference unit to send and receive full-resolution computer signals to and from other participants in the video call.
This will help determine the connections you require in the next step.
Determine how the videoconference unit(s) will connect to your other on-site audiovisual equipment.
If you wish to connect to audio/visual equipment that is already installed in the venue, you will need to make sure that the equipment has the appropriate connections for the videoconferencing unit.
For example, the Polycom Viewstation FX unit requires a Composite or S-video input to your display device, and has corresponding connections for audio. So if you are connecting a regular television or plasma display it would need to have either 3-phono (the yellow, red and white sockets) or a SCART input.
If you wanted to hook up the Videoconference unit to a PA system, the PA would need to accept unbalanced line-level input on twin phono (the red and white connectors), and the PA would need to be able to output the same type of connection back to the videoconference unit (minus the incoming feed from the VC unit) if the PA system has wireless microphones which you wish to use instead of the wired ones that come with the videoconferencing unit.
Newer HD videoconference endpoints will accept signals from DVI and HDMI, and likewise output their video signals on HDMI and DVI, in addition to VGA.
Newer HD endpoints can also accept and output audio signals via balanced XLR, which eases connection to larger PA systems and AV installations.
This type of connection is best tested before the day of the videoconference, to make sure that your on-site PA system is compatible with this type of operation.
If Powerpoint or a computer image is to be received alongside the video call, then a display device capable of displaying those signals will also be required, such as a projector, computer monitor or plasma television with VGA or DVI/HDMI input.
As a backup, it can also be useful to have an analog conference phone ready in case of technical difficulties at either end of the call. For this to work you simply need to provide an ordinary telephone line to the same room as the videoconference unit.
The Polycom Viewstation FX and HDX 9000 have a built-in audio-only conference phone facility and can be used as such a backup device, negating the need for the additional expense of an analog backup conference phone.
Additionally, the Viewstation FX and HDX 9000 units are also capable of joining an audio-only call with a video call, allowing the audio participant(s) to hear the members of the video call and vice-versa.
So in summary, a basic requirements list for videoconferencing is:
- A room for the call
- Available power sockets in the room
- Available IP or ISDN connection(s) in the room
- Knowing whether the call will be IP or ISDN in advance, and knowing the numbers to be dialled, communicating with your IT or communications provider to know your IP address and/or ISDN numbers if necessary (and not using PUNCH!)
- Knowing if it is a simple video call, or if Powerpoint or computer images need to be sent or received as well.
- Knowing what display equipment the videoconference unit will be connecting to, and making sure it is compatible.
- Deciding if a backup conference phone is required, and providing an analog phone line to the same room as the VC unit if necessary.