School Video Conferencing

Use Cases

  • Boardroom style meetings:
    • currently using Skype
    • meeting held here with multiple disparate remote participants
    • must be easy/instant for remote participants to connect
    • must be easy to subscribe/find/manage all participants
    • generally not huge numbers of remote participation, certainly below 25
    • boardroom meeting style between multiple places, i.e. boardroom2boardroom conferencing
  • small 1 on 1, 2 on 1 type meetings
    • e.g. PhD recruitment, currently using Skype for conducting remote interviews
  • live web-casting/streaming of seminars
    • with remote participation/presentation
  • want to encourage spontaneous interactions, e.g. wormhole, videowall
  • being able to use desktop for remotely connecting to external meetings would be highly preferential as well - encourages participation
  • using Skype just now when we want to join remote meetings
  • joining discussion groups - needs shared whiteboard/screen
  • remote lecture and tutorial attendance
  • Hardware:
    • solution should work on desktops, but should also support dedicated meeting rooms
    • will need advice for individuals setting up conferencing on their desktop:
      • e.g. cameras to get - laptops maybe ok, but wider view cameras are better
      • e.g. the right kind of microphones
    • will need advice for remote individual participants

Dedicated Meeting Room Provisioning

  • Spend money on good microphone(s).
  • A good option is the biamp devio with USB and HDMI output (USB supports DisplayLink but apparently not working with recent Mac OS).
  • Should probably get acoustic dampening installed (the IMR has this).
  • Dedicated computer for anyone to use, ideally configured so login straight into meeting "setup" or "join" type screen.
  • Facility to easily plug in any laptop, e.g. when users have custom software and presentations.
  • Logitech C930 camera. Cheap model at ~£100 fine for most uses, but could pay ~£600 for the the panning model.
  • The monitors and speakers are a small outlay by comparison.
  • Will need stands for monitors, speakers and camera however.
  • Probably want 55" screen x2 maybe rather than one 70" screen.
  • Computer - want one in the room that will run the system. Windows would be the standard, but consider running a Windows image on top of a managed DICE box solution (as we have done for another video conferencing setup). Alternatively could be secured laptop
    • computer should be on a separate table with controlled access
  • Hardware probably compatible with any software

General Issues with Existing Video Conferencing Facilities

  • Actually getting people connected. Skype uses a personal account. Searching this is hard and is a general issue with consumer (non-business targeted) solutions.
  • Remote bandwidth is not always there and/or reliable or when remote participants don't have necessary software installed locally. So there must be robust fallback mechanisms to connect, e.g. conference call by dial-in. Rarely a satisfactory experience when using indirect connection however.
  • Our network drops out sometimes - does our network and/or EdLAN handle streaming traffic well enough.
  • Tried the instrumented meeting room but it is not really for others to use and has limited availability.
  • Tried the Turing room previously and the telecon phone for backup but complex dial-in procedure meant this did not work.
  • Tried one in library. No refreshments allowed (important for an all day meeting). Needs same kit at both ends. No time for externals to pretest (too busy). Uses vscene. Have to book with one support team, setup connection with another, call yet another for support.

Contenders

The primary and secondary contenders below all meet our base requirements. However most do require a local client application download rather than direct in-browser support. They tend to be licensed by host (a user able to initiate/run a meeting). Ones considered have usual "cloud" service type disadvantages regarding reliability, control and security. An advantage of a "cloud" service though is that the hosting service handles the bulk of any network bandwidth so we are very much less dependent on our own provision, in particular for webinars. Most are subscription licensed (monthly/annual recurrent cost) so a low risk commitment.

Guiding Principles

These are taken from this blog article but I think this article outlines much the same direction we should take here generally as well.

Any solution should have the capability to mix multiple technologies, including H.323, SIP, Skype (for Business) and PSTN and should support both studio-style equipment, native and HTML5/WebRTC clients. A shared online meeting platform that provides a ”no prep required” meeting experienced, including using ”side of the bus” friendly URLs for meetings, and also offers future support for learning.

Primary (Proposed)

These systems are considered to offer the best overall solution for the School. These are NOT the only systems that might meet the actual requirements (see sections below), however they are the first ones we should investigate initially in more depth (others have common aspects, e.g. the use of a cloud based service generally).

  • Zoom
    • Licensed per-host (user able to initiate/call a meeting), although limited free use also available.
    • Has an educational pricing model (and some educational specific usage support).
    • Phone dial-in is available (additional charge).
    • H.323/SIP interoperability using ZoomRooms (additional charge).
    • See a sponsored review and an independent review
    • Plays better than others with Linux (e.g. for hosting/initiating a meeting).
    • IM available (at additional charge), but less clear we need this when everything works.
    • Their own comparison matrix.
    • Approximate cost would be $1800 to $2800 per-annum for 20 hosts depending on features included. A host can have unlimited meetings. Each meeting supports up to 50 participants. Anyone can use free for unlimited 1to1 meetings (time limited to 40 mins).

  • Lifesize
    • The ATI dedicated V/C room uses this.
    • Whereas Zoom is a cloud based service with some generic hardware integration support, Lifesize is more of an overall solution with hardware although it does also offer a cloud only version.
    • Otherwise quite similar to Zoom.
    • Their own comparison matrix.

Some comparative reviews for Zoom, Lifesize and the secondary contenders below:

Secondary

These systems are similar to the primary ones, and were briefly considered, however for various reasons (given below) have been relegated into this second tier list (not to mean they might not be promoted if the first tier isn't up to scratch and/or we want a price and experience comparison).

  • Citrix GoToMeeting
    • Steve Renals uses this and it is perfectly okay, however has not changed much in the last 5 years and likely to be expensive.
    • See sample Review.
    • Possible limitations - maximum of 6? participating parties with video stream.
    • seems to work reliably, but there have been frustrating issues related to the licensing model.

  • AdobeConnect
    • Quite old now, buggy.
    • Still requires Flash on all platforms, see their roadmap.
    • Expensive.

Others

These systems were only briefly looked at, and are considered to not be a particularly good fit (older technology, less alignment with our requirements, smaller players, not as good quality, etc).

  • Cisco WebEx
    • Old school, does not seem a good fit for us.

  • Join.Me
    • One plus is that it does not seem to need a client application to be downloaded.

  • Vscene
    • JISC video collaboration - good as a back up maybe.
    • Probably built on Vidyo.

And if that is not enough this independent comparative matrix includes even more!

Testing

Did some basic testing of Zoom and Lifesize to get some first impressions. The executive summary is that: Zoom was intuitive and an enjoyable experience; Lifesize was less intuitive and a more frustrating experience. Both however did the job. In both cases we attempted to use them without referring to any documentation, as we imagine most users would expect to be able to host and join basic meetings without needing to refer to a user manual! This was just a desktop to desktop trial not a full meeting room test. We just looked at the video meeting aspect, not scheduling, contact management, etc. We spent approximately half an hour on each to do these tests. ATI have a Lifesize system installed, further user testing should be carried out on this.

Zoom

  • Used the free service to test (limits meetings to 50 participants and 40 minutes duration).
  • The Linux client is a binary RPM which needs to be installed as root. Installed fine on SL7 with some post-install warnings which did not seem to affect any functionality we tried. The download and application launch worked seamlessly otherwise under both Firefox and Chrome. Note that root installation may be an issue for external Linux users that don't manage their own machine.
  • Ran a meeting from a Linux desktop using an external camera and headset microphone. Other participants used MacOS (seamless client download and launch) with its built in microphone/camera and a managed desktop Windows8 laptop (again seamless client download and launch) with its built in microphone/camera.
  • No issues with audio/video and no obvious quality/lag issues.
  • No managed desktop firewall issues downloading client or using application.
  • Screen sharing from Linux including remote control and whiteboard style controls worked fine.
  • Can just send a URL to join via email or copy/paste to clipboard and do whatever with. Other participants just click on or goto to that URL to join. They do not need to have Zoom account.

Lifesize

  • No free service. Signed in for time limited trial requiring phone number, just waiting on the telesales phone call back now ...
  • NO Linux client. This is not an issue if V/C is used only in a dedicated room where a supported platform can be used for the host computer, but is rather restrictive for us otherwise.
  • Used the MacOS client instead and managed desktop Windows8 laptop. Both with built in microphone/camera. Both client download and launch was seamless.
  • Took a brief moment to work out how to actually start an adhoc meeting, need to use "Call Out".
  • Can just send a URL to join via email or copy/paste to clipboard and do whatever with. A bit easier to copy/paste than Zoom. Other participants just click on or goto to that URL to join. They do not need to have Lifesize account (choose Guest when joining meeting). You need to manually re-enter the unique number in the URL under the "Phone" field to actually join the meeting which threw us for a bit.
  • Managed desktop complained about firewall rules blocking service requiring a manual override.
  • Screen sharing seemed to work but no apparent remote control and couldn't see how to use a whiteboard mode.
  • No issues with audio/video and no obvious quality/lag issues.
  • No obvious remote mute option as with Zoom.
  • Nice screen/desktop/overlay integration on MacOS at least.

Where Now

We suggest others try them out. Anyone can try Zoom or Lifesize for themselves and arrange meetings. For Zoom just create an account. For Lifesize sign up for a trial. If using Zoom on your Linux DICE desktop support will need to install the client package for you. Anyone should also be able to try out CollaborateUltra which has a WebRTC /browser client.

User Comments

  • Quite a few users commented that being in shared offices meant at the desk video conferencing did not work and means having to try and find free meeting rooms. This is clearly an important issue with so many users now in shared occupancy, and some solutions are being looked at to address this such as making more smaller meeting rooms and acoustically isolated booths.
  • One user queried the availability of Skype. Skype4Business (Microsoft) Beta available for Linux now so may also be an option. Central University is investigating this one. Skype with video does not scale to more than about 3 separate locations however.
  • One user has successfully used Google Hangouts which does not require a Google+ account.
  • One user commented that Zoom had worked very well for them and was easy to use.
  • One user has used the Polycomm windows client for 1 or 2 of us joining and H.323 video conference suite with up to 20 participants. It seemed to work OK, though there is sometimes some drop-out. A proper video conferencing facility with H323 would be good (Lifesize and Zoom are both H.323 compliant).
  • One user thought spending a lot of money was not generally worthwhile (confidentiality issues aside) as free solutions (software like https://meet.jit.si/) worked well for them. More crucially was ensuring that there was good audio setup in the meeting rooms and that the rooms should all contain a properly configured computer (DICE was the noted preference here, although other have specified Windows) so that everything just works.
  • One user commented that interoperability was important and that the chosen system should work well on mobile platforms and non-DICE systems (iOS, Android, MS Windows), in particular as most calls will be to outside the school and many may involve students (so availability of a free easy to use client is crucial). The same level of functionality and interoperability in something like Webex should be available. We should also consider whether the systems we choose to support will integrate with the calendar apps we support in Informatics and the University in general. It's so much easier to arrange conference calls if the conferencing software is (or could be) integrated with the calendar(s) of those invited to the meeting.
  • One user has been using appear.in for meeting recently and it has been great, much better than skype. It uses WebRTC and is peer-to-peer so in my limited understanding better technology than skype or zoom which are server based - but only suitable for small meetings (up to 8 participants on the free plan, 12 participants on premium). I have registered ownership of the "room" appear.in/informatics in case we want to use it. It doesn't need an app, runs in modern versions of Chrome and Firefox and Opera. Also Android but needs an app for iOS.

Proposal

We plan to install generic hardware (non-proprietary monitors, camera and audio system) in one of the other meeting rooms configured for the free Zoom system, the University CollaborateUltra system, and maybe others, for users to try out and compare with the Lifesize installation.

-- TimColles - 29 Jun 2016

Topic revision: r7 - 17 May 2017 - 11:53:22 - TimColles
 
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platformCopyright © by the contributing authors. All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
Ideas, requests, problems regarding TWiki? Send feedback
This Wiki uses Cookies