Multipoint video conferencing allows participants at more than two sites to
engage in real-time communication by means of a Multipoint Control Unit
(MCU) to which all the participants connect. In multipoint communications
this video bridge device interconnects signals from several sources in the
same fashion that multiple audio lines are intermingled in a telephone
conference call. The key difference in multipoint versus “normal” video
conferencing is the fact that there are multiple participants at multiple
locations rather than a single interaction between two webcams or two
digital video cameras communicating directly through conferencing software.

Is There a Demand for Multipoint Conferencing?

There is an increasing demand for multipoint video teleconferencing for a
number of reasons. Not only does it overcome the expense and delays caused
by travel, but these meetings tend to be briefer and more focused than
face-to-face encounters and thus more productive. Busy executives can budget
their time more effectively when meeting with clients or employees and,
compared to the cost of travel, establishing facilities for a multipoint
video conference is much more cost effective.

How Does Multipoint Video Conferencing Work?

Essentially a conferencing system uses a CODEC, a device which converts and
compresses the video signal into digital data for transmission to a decoder
which reverses the process on the other end. Working in full-duplex mode,
the system encodes and decodes data in both directions simultaneously. The
network over which the data travels may be any kind of broadband or
satellite connection. Speeds as lows as 128 Kbps will produce a decent
quality conference, but for television quality video the minimum data rate
should be around 384 Kbps. There are two modes or formats for multipoint
video conferencing, continuous presence (CP) and voice activated (VA).
Participants in the conference should always be told which method is being
used. Generally a moderator is used in both scenarios to control the
interaction and troubleshoot any issues that may arise.

Continuous Presence

In a multipoint video conference conducted in continuous presence mode, all
sites can be seen at the same time. Usually at one site participants will
see themselves on one monitor and the remote participants on a second
monitor in smaller windows. This is not an optimal method for displaying any
kind of data other than voice communication because the data will not occupy
the full screen. Microphones can be simultaneously active at all sites
involved and as a result, things can get a bit noisy. Intervention on the
part of the moderator may be required to keep things in order.

Voice Activated

In this method of multipoint video conferencing only the remote site that
produced the most recent audio will appear on the monitors. Again, at a
single site participants will see themselves on one monitor and the source
of the most recent audio will appear on a second monitor. Microphone
settings are critical in voice activated mode. When a site is not speaking,
their microphone should be muted to avoid random noise that will suddenly
place them on screen. Moderation is especially recommended in this mode.

Could Multipoint Conferencing be made Affordable?

Many systems now offer a built-in video conferencing bridge, which has made
multipoint conferencing increasingly affordable. Still, a system capable of
supporting a four-way conference will cost in the $8,000 range. As
multipoint video conferencing continues to grow in popularity, however, and
systems with build-in bridges become more refined, prices will undoubtedly
drop. Multipoint video conferencing allows participants at more than two
sites to engage in real-time communication by means of a Multipoint Control
Unit (MCU) to which all the participants connect. In multipoint
communications this video bridge device interconnects signals from several
sources in the same fashion that multiple audio lines are intermingled in a
telephone conference call. The key difference in multipoint versus “normal”
video conferencing is the fact that there are multiple participants at
multiple locations rather than a single interaction between two webcams or
two digital video cameras communicating directly through conferencing
software.

Is There a Demand for Multipoint Conferencing?

There is an increasing demand for multipoint video teleconferencing for a
number of reasons. Not only does it overcome the expense and delays caused
by travel, but these meetings tend to be briefer and more focused than
face-to-face encounters and thus more productive. Busy executives can budget
their time more effectively when meeting with clients or employees and,
compared to the cost of travel, establishing facilities for a multipoint
video conference is much more cost effective.

How Does Multipoint Video Conferencing Work?

Essentially a conferencing system uses a CODEC, a device which converts and
compresses the video signal into digital data for transmission to a decoder
which reverses the process on the other end. Working in full-duplex mode,
the system encodes and decodes data in both directions simultaneously. The
network over which the data travels may be any kind of broadband or
satellite connection. Speeds as lows as 128 Kbps will produce a decent
quality conference, but for television quality video the minimum data rate
should be around 384 Kbps. There are two modes or formats for multipoint
video conferencing, continuous presence (CP) and voice activated (VA).
Participants in the conference should always be told which method is being
used. Generally a moderator is used in both scenarios to control the
interaction and troubleshoot any issues that may arise.

Continuous Presence

In a multipoint video conference conducted in continuous presence mode, all
sites can be seen at the same time. Usually at one site participants will
see themselves on one monitor and the remote participants on a second
monitor in smaller windows. This is not an optimal method for displaying any
kind of data other than voice communication because the data will not occupy
the full screen. Microphones can be simultaneously active at all sites
involved and as a result, things can get a bit noisy. Intervention on the
part of the moderator may be required to keep things in order.

Voice Activated

In this method of multipoint video conferencing only the remote site that
produced the most recent audio will appear on the monitors. Again, at a
single site participants will see themselves on one monitor and the source
of the most recent audio will appear on a second monitor. Microphone
settings are critical in voice activated mode. When a site is not speaking,
their microphone should be muted to avoid random noise that will suddenly
place them on screen. Moderation is especially recommended in this mode.

Could Multipoint Conferencing be made Affordable?

Many systems now offer a built-in video conferencing bridge, which has made
multipoint conferencing increasingly affordable. Still, a system capable of
supporting a four-way conference will cost in the $8,000 range. As
multipoint video conferencing continues to grow in popularity, however, and
systems with build-in bridges become more refined, prices will undoubtedly
drop.

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