Higher Education: Using Video for Guest Lectures, Speakers, and Collaboration

While the corporate world is reaping the benefits of audio visual aids, videoconferencing, and cloud collaboration, the trend has touched higher education institutions as well. Classrooms have expanded beyond four walls, thanks to audio visual solutions. Teaching is more collaborative, and learning has become easier and more interactive, due to the ability to bring in guest lecturers from different parts of the world without having to stretch the budget. Ad-hoc meeting and Web RTC are powerful tools for adding guest speakers and other professors to the classroom. Providing multiple voices, increased engagement, and new learning opportunities for students, video is a boon for the future of education.

Ad-hoc Meeting is Making Learning Easy

What is Ad-hoc meeting? It is the ability to start a meeting whenever required, and the facility to talk without any prior preparation or scheduling. Ad-hoc meetings allow you to start a conference call, share your desktop with participants, share power point slides, hold group conversations, and send and receive files, all with just the click of a button. One example is Microsoft’s Lync, which has ad-hoc meeting software that can be used effectively to create a meeting environment immediately.

Video Conferencing the Right Way

In a higher education set up, two kinds of video conferencing environments can be used. First, point-to-point, where two locations are connected. Lectures can be given from one location, while students can receive them in another. Multi-point is the second, where three or more locations can be linked via a cloud based platform supported by adequate apps. In both cases, AV equipment can be used, or the students may bring their iPad or Smartphones to receive the lectures in true BYOD fashion. Factors like bandwidth, delivery method, video compression, and the standards of video conferencing should be kept in mind so that technical issues can be avoided or easily resolved.

Video conferencing works best in small groups, and is extremely beneficial for making the best use of time and budget. Thinking that video conferencing is a substitute for printed material is a mistake, however. It is a supportive tool that increases engagement and encourages students and lecturers to participate in the learning process, without boundaries.

Web RTC in Higher Education

Web Real Time Communication, or Web RTC, is an open platform which can be used free of cost by collaborators. It supports browser-to-browser applications for video conferencing requirements through either browsers or mobile applications. These platforms enable real time communication capabilities with the help of API (Application Programming Interface). The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) drafted its usage, and it has been aiding video collaborations ever since. Web RTC is especially useful for students participating in distance learning programs. It is supported by browsers such as Google, Mozilla, and Opera, and mobile platforms such as Android and iOS.

When it comes to higher education, Web RTC can a useful and budget friendly tool. The growth and popularity of online education and the benefits of the virtual environment have increased the demand for applications that will work. Web RTC addresses issues of installation and set-up cost, as well as licensing requirements. Face-to-face communication becomes possible in a convenient and cost effective way. At present, Google’s Hangout, TokBox, and Vidyo are at the helm, supporting Web RTC platforms that aid higher education through video conferencing.

Do you think video is truly revolutionizing education? Share your experience with us.

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4 Emerging Trends in Digital Signage

At an age where customer engagement has dictated brand visibility, digital signage has taken a step up from being just a vehicle for distributing information, to being a complete entertainment package, captivating the audience and engaging them at the purchase point. So, what does the year 2015 hold for the future digital signage? Let’s find out.

Digital Signage – a New Age in Communication Technology

Signage boards have long been a part of advertisement strategies. As of late, the inclusion of digital technology has made using signage more flexible and functional. Signs can be customized according to requirements and they can even display buying trends in real time. The reach of digital signage has improved over the years, owing to the increased level of customer satisfaction it has achieved. Let’s consider some statistics that bolster the use of digital signage:

  • Digital Signage has a 47.7% effectiveness for brand awareness.
  • Digital Signage creates a 31.8% increase in overall sales volume.
  • 42% of retail video viewers would prefer to shop at stores that have video displays, if given the choice.
  • Digital Signage increases the average purchase amount by 29.5%.
  • Digital Signage generates 32.8% growth in repeat buyers.
  • 81% of consumers are most interested in seeing video programming for the store they are in.

Four Trends to Watch

More screens everywhere. This year, we’ll see an increase in 4K-Ultra HD screens. Low price and high resolution are driving this trend. As screens become larger, and the costs come down due to competition, there will be a proliferation of high resolution screens in digital signage. However, industry trends tell us that small screens will go into mass production and the demand for them to be located at strategic points for optimum customer engagement will be optimum. We’ll see the trend play out especially in the hospitality and retail sector.

More interactivity. Gone are the days when signage was meant to be admired and studied from a distance. Now, with signage at our fingertips, we can navigate through digital catalogues and find products or services in a store. Interactivity is the new trend in digital signage, and enterprises are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that communication gets up close and personal among the customers and their products and services. Technologies like facial recognition and near field communication (NFC) are aiding in the adoption of digital signage and aim at making the medium feel as close to consumers as users feel to their tablets and smartphones, enriching the overall experience of content consumption.

Increased use of digital signage for data visualization. Rather than simply advertising, companies and brands are going to use digital signage to help make analytics and information easier to consume, particularly in schools, at sporting events, supermarkets, and in retail stores where data is being processed and made available for quick viewing and analysis by the customers. The hospitality sector is another place where information is being rapidly processed. Digital signage will be used so that customers can browse through food menus and place their order rather than waiting for a server to take it. The latest NFC in the digital signage industry will tout the usual benefits like remote access, flexibility, easy updating, and upselling, but it will also ensure better customer engagement in the times to come.

Mobile continues to evolve. Mobile will continue to influence the purchase journey of consumers, as well as the configurations and applications of digital signage systems. The industry will have to focus on converging mobile, Internet, and display solutions to create new customer encounters and help to drive repeat sales for businesses and marketers using this complex formula.

What do you think will be the impact of these trends on the digital signage industry? Which industry trends have you been looking at? We would love to hear your thoughts.

The Basics for Good Presentation Sound

A successful live concert is perhaps one of the best examples of what great AV integrators can do with sound, light, visuals, and video. The convergence of a well planned and executed stage show can take us to another world altogether. On the other hand, we have all experienced the the screeching halt that poor AV arrangements can create, leaving a bad taste in our mouth. Everyone has experienced that ear piercing, horrible shriek when the presenter’s mic gets too close to speakers. While it may be the fault of the presenter, often times it is a problem that could be resolved with the proper setup. People may love a high-resolution video and lighting, but without good sound, a presentation can quickly lose its lustre. It’s important to make sure acoustics are considered when setting up the sound, for this reason.

AV Hardware – the Crux Behind Good Sound

Since the term “audio visuals” was coined giving equal importance to both audio and visuals, it can be correctly assumed that when audio fails, the entire presentation falls flat. So, what are the makings of a good core AV hardware setup? Although every space depending on size, shape, type of presentation will have different needs, some basic considerations are an integrated Wi-Fi or Ethernet port, Bluetooth, lots of inputs, an integrated phono stage, good streaming content, and a powerful amplifier section – all of these features may be typical of a good AV hardware setup, but the clarity and sharpness of the sound truly determines whether technology is improving the sound quality. HD surround sound features also play a role in deciding whether or not the audio is able to support the video presentations. So much depends on selecting the right AV equipment. However, to fill loopholes in your presentation sound, you can follow these tried and true steps:

  • Prepare well in advance for presentations. For smoother presentations, prep time and practice with the wireless microphones and other equipment in advance will help ensure that the entire presentation runs without glitches. It is important to check if energy sources are capable of handling the draw in order to prevent the presentation audio from dying mid-way through. You should also check all the audio inputs and outputs properly a few hours before the presentation so that you have enough time to fix them if anything is wrong.
  • Avoid audio feedbacks, reverbs, and unnecessary echoes. Feedback – that unforgettable shrilling noise – is arguably one of the most irritating sounds ever produced. Not only does it distract the audience, but it also kills their interest as they recover from the shock. While a trick is to keep the microphone at a particular distance from the speaker, a more permanent solution is to purchase audio equipment that is designed to eliminate feedback and cancel out echoes.
  • Test the audio quality. Perhaps the smartest thing to do before an AV presentation is to meticulously test the audio quality in the room, and outside if necessary, to ensure that the sound reaches equally and homogenously across the areas within range of the presentation. Sound check is also important to reduce the risk of feedback and any other sound distortion during the course of the production.

When creating the right impact on the audience, so much depends upon the sound. While the right equipment plays a major role in determining the quality of presentations, following a few basic tips, like the ones discussed above, can make a huge difference in the final outcome of any presentation.

Are Virtual Meeting Rooms the Future of Enterprise Video Communication?

This is an era where the role of enterprise communication is increasingly veering towards connecting with the remote operations of an organization – remote workers, telecommuters, online clients, etc. Most of today’s businesses have both an online location as well as a brick-and-mortar one, while many others run fully on a virtual basis. Many recent surveys show the growing popularity of remote business among organizations and their employees as a more preferred option of getting work done. According to the 2014 SHRM Employee Benefits Report, nearly three out of five (59%) organizations offered some form of telecommuting opportunity. The 2013 Work-Life Fit survey has revealed that almost one-third (31%) of full-time workers in the U.S. work from a remote location outside of the brick-and-mortar business. Employees are working from home, in business centers, coffee shops, or anywhere they can find a wi-fi connection or the tech supports they need to get the job done.

With such shifts in the business landscape coming into play, most organizations are relying on virtual meetings to communicate with their remote workforce, to collaborate, solve problems, and to discuss key business issues. Since major operations and decision-making are being done virtually, remote collaboration needs to be both efficient and effective. Now, more than ever, the remote experience must be as functional as a face-to-face meeting. The real need lies in taking video conferencing beyond the boardroom to help teams collaborate seamlessly across any platform available, whether a desktop computer, smartphone, or tablet.

The Future of Enterprise Video Communication is Changing

The needs and demands of video conferencing services have changed exponentially. Five years ago, we were investing in million dollar telepresence spaces, now people are essentially looking for ‘Skype on steroids.’ They want ease, flexibility, and simplicity of use, along with the quality and robustness of telepresence systems with no required hardware. The future of video communication is following the trend. To keep up, AV integrators will need to develop products and services that will make entering a meeting room as easy as clicking on a link. Such meeting environments are already being offered by collaboration platforms, like Microsoft Lync, signaling a change in the favor of cloud-based systems over dedicated systems.

Cloud-Based Meeting Rooms are Built for the Future

Cloud-based virtual meeting rooms (VMRs) offer the right blend of simple, one-touch set up and good quality visual communication. Because a VMR cuts down the hassle of expensive hardware installations, cloud-based VMRs are a cost-effective way to meet an organization’s video collaboration needs. With a range of powerful features including 2D and 3D video broadcasting, mobile support, file sharing, IMs, VOIP, call recording, etc., VMRs are a step ahead of the traditional video conferencing systems. Additionally, interoperability with existing on premise solutions is possible.

Here are some of the benefits cloud-based VMRs offer for organizations of future:

Ad hoc meetings are easy. With remote working on the rise, ad hoc meetings are becoming necessary. Down the road, systems that support ad hoc communication will be in demand. Since cloud-based VMR supports ad hoc meetings, they will be able to meet enterprise communication requirements of the future.

Users can join meetings from anywhere, everywhere. Communication systems of the future should enable users to join meetings from practically anywhere and through any device. Cloud-based VMRs are a positive step in that direction.

Excellent scalability. When it comes to an enterprise-grade video conferencing service, it should support businesses when they are growing and also when they are downsizing. Virtual meeting rooms offer easy, scalable solutions to businesses without undermining the quality of communication.

The rules of communication are changing in this increasingly virtual world, and more and more businesses are realizing the benefits of cloud-based services that will help them connect effectively with their teams scattered worldwide. As the landscape of enterprise video communications transforms, virtual meetings rooms will gradually become an integral part of this change.

How are you connecting remotely in the virtual business landscape? Are cloud-based services meeting your needs?

Why Cloud Videoconferencing Is Gaining Popularity in the Enterprise

In the tech world there has been much discussion recently about the Cloud. Businesses are still trying to figure out exactly how it can be used for their benefit. One of its most effective uses comes in the form of cloud conferencing, a method by which business professionals can communicate with each other using Internet-based software. Cloud video conferencing and the enterprise are very well suited for each other for several key reasons.

Remote Working

Remote working is becoming extremely popular in the modern business world. Statistics have shown that almost one third of the United States’ full-time workers complete a majority of their work remotely. Video conferencing makes it easier for professionals to work remotely as long as they have a camera and a microphone that are compatible on their computer.

Archiving Your Meetings

Before the rise of video conferencing, remembering what was discussed at a meeting meant someone either had to take notes, or an audio or video recorder had to be used to archive what was happening in the meeting. Thanks to Cloud video conferencing tools, businesses can now record their meetings within the software that they use to hold conferences, making it much easier to refer back to information discussed at a conference.

Training Benefits

Some people in the commercial sector may remember the days when training meant sitting through a long orientation video or reading a manual about company policy. One of the reasons that Cloud video conferencing and the enterprise is such a great match is because of how it impacts the way that companies train their new employees. Using video conferencing, for example, you can train multiple employees at the same time. Are you looking to bring in a trainer that is not in your geographic location? Using video conferencing you can have them deliver a remote training session that can be recorded for future use.

Increasing Collaboration Between Multiple Offices

Another reason why Cloud video conferencing and the enterprise go together well is because of how applicable this technology is for companies with multiple offices. Large corporations that have offices in different cities or even different countries will reap many benefits from using video conferencing. Instead of spending money to send employees to these different offices, organizations can use a series of video conferences for the intensive collaboration that is required to get projects completed in a timely fashion.

Better Customer Service

Want to give your customers an extremely intimate support experience that allows them to feel like they are getting personal attention? Video conferencing is a great way to do so. With video conferencing you can speak directly to customers who need assistance, giving them prompt, attentive assistance that will improve your retention and customer satisfaction rates.

Cloud video conferencing and the enterprise go very well together. Because of an increasingly global economy that has led to a rise in remote working and business across borders, video conferencing is perfect for companies that want to reduce costs and make sure that their employees can collaborate from any location.

Cloud Videoconferencing Infrastructure–When Does It Make Sense?

The cloud has changed the way that many companies approach technology, especially when it comes to communication. Cloud video conferencing is just one example of how the prominence of the cloud has changed the way that colleagues and clients collaborate. There are some particular instances where creating a cloud video conferencing infrastructure is particularly important for companies in the private sector, as well as for other kinds of organizations that need seamless video conferencing.

When Mobility Is Critical

One of the biggest advantages of using cloud video conferencing is that it frees up your team members to take video calls wherever they are. With traditional conferencing tools that use on-site hardware, members of your team have to be in the office to hold video conferences with their other people. Cloud video conferencing has the advantage of letting users hold conferences from almost anywhere.

When Budget Is A Factor

The cost of setting up video conferencing on-site is often much higher than the price companies will pay to invest in cloud conferencing. Many cloud video conferencing providers charge a flat rate per month for a specific set of conferencing services, which allows organizations with a limited AV budget to still get the communication capabilities required to conduct business successfully.

When Scalability Is Important

In many different areas, the cloud helps companies that want to be able to scale their processes up and down. Video conferencing is no different. When you buy AV equipment, like servers and computers, or retain staff members who are dedicated to managing video conferencing, it can be very difficult to scale your conferencing up or down as necessary. Video conferencing in the cloud allows users to make quick changes when it comes to how much video conferencing they need to conduct and how often they need to hold these conferences. Cloud-based providers of video conferencing usually allow customers to quickly pay for more bandwidth or the capability to handle more users.

A good example of the great scalability of video conferencing in the cloud can be found in Google’s Hangout technology. Google recently added Hangouts to its suite of business applications and increased the compatibility of Hangouts so that these conferences can work with a number of different kinds of devices. Hangouts can support video conferencing for as many as ten people, which makes it one of the most scalable cloud conferencing solutions available for today’s consumers.

When Employee Resources Cannot Be Allocated To AV Management

Another big hurdle to on-site conferencing solutions is that it requires some type of maintenance. You need to have someone in place who can monitor servers, apply software updates, and troubleshoot conferencing solutions when users are having trouble. Cloud conferencing providers generally offer all of this assistance as a part of their service, which reduces the staffing requirements of video conferencing.

Cloud video conferencing continues to develop and become more sophisticated as time goes on. If your organization needs a customized solution for video conferencing, a cloud provider may be the perfect answer to your needs.

2015 Unified Communication Predictions

After a brief period of dormancy, the unified communications (UC) industry took a healthy jump to life last year. What will this year bring for the industry? UC experts are predicting the biggest trends and what they mean for enterprises and institutions looking to expand and improve their collaboration experience in 2015. A recent article on TechTarget explored the top unified communication and collaboration trends of the last 12 months, which they predict will stay strong in 2015. Let’s talk about some of them.

The Growing Popularity of UC-as-a-Service (UCaaS). 2014 witnessed an increased adoption of cloud-based UC. The article cited some relevant findings from Nemertes Research’s Enterprise Technology Benchmark, “One in 3 enterprises moved to a cloud-based email or calendar platform, with another 12% planning to migrate in 2015.” According to Nemertes analyst, Irwin Lazar, cost-effectiveness, higher scalability, and quick deployment are some of the biggest reasons behind the popularity of UCaaS.

More Companies Using Cloud-Based Video Conferencing. Costly room video conferencing systems are quickly being replaced by less costly, cloud-based systems available for desktop and mobile devices. Pointing to Google’s 2014 announcement of its partnership with Vidyo, the article predicts that the blending of cloud-based video with on-premises systems will continue in 2015.

Tools Making Collaboration Easy. Last year Cisco and Unify released collaboration tools that would act as better alternatives to email for group communication, setting this year’s industry movement toward combining messaging, file-sharing, audio, video and Web conferencing into a single easy-to-use format.

UC Becoming More Social. Social integration has been one of the major trends in 2014 with social-embedded UC products like Unify Circuit and Cisco Project Squared arriving in the scene. This year we’ll witness “more robust versions” while “rivals like IBM, Jive Software, and Microsoft are likely to improve their more mature products.”

WebRTC Makes UC a Web-app Feature. The trend of web-browser based audio and video conferencing made WebRTC support crucial for browser makers. In 2015, more business software developers and UCC vendors will incorporate WebRTC into products. Not only this, more B2C businesses will start using WebRTC technology to add audio and video communications to websites and mobile apps. Twilio, a service API provider for voice calls, VoIP, text messaging etc., has jumped on the WebRTC bandwagon, and its rivals, Plivo, Voxeo Corp., and Tropo, are very likely to join soon.

Mobile UC Rises in Demand. With cloud-based UCC becoming increasingly popular among enterprises, there has been a growing demand for easy-to-use mobile UC that can help employees and executives connect and collaborate even on the fly. Big players like ShoreTel and AT&T are planning to expand their video conferencing services to mobile to make the most of this trend. This year, we can expect to see many new products and services entering the mobile UC market.

Other trends worth noting are: enterprise demand of UC monitoring software will grow; organizations will need to mitigate interoperability issues by breaking existing silos; and security threats to VoIP will increase.

After reviewing these prediction, do you think last year’s trends will be carried forward in 2015 or will we see some entirely new concepts emerging this year? Share your thoughts with us.