12 Answers to 12 Questions about Web Conferencing and Webcams


In the most basic of terms, a Web conference can be a live (or recorded) video with both voice and video communication between both parties (sometimes video and audio from one side, and audio only from the other). It can be used as a cost-efficient means of communication between two people, or between hundreds, even thousands of parties. Here are some frequently asked questions about Web conferencing.

12 Questions About Web Conferencing

1. Why should web conferencing interest me?

Web conferencing is a type of technology that once you try it, you are instantly hooked. Those who sell video conferencing units will describe their products in terms like ‘high impact’, or, “a picture is worth a 1000 words.” In most circumstances, that is true. The ability to see the person you are speaking to can greatly improve your communication over far distances.

In the next two examples, the primary goal of Web conferencing is to bridge the gap between ordinary telephone, IM and email communications and actually being with the person in the flesh.

  1. For home users, the real benefit is in the frequency of communication. Say you live in New York, but your parents live in Arizona. You talk to your folks every other week on the telephone, and fly in to visit in person once a year. If they are computer savvy, it may make sense to add a web cam to their computer so you never hear the complaint “we never see you anymore.”
  2. For business users who, for example, have a team in New York and a team in London. The teams have need to speak weekly, but only talk monthly over the telephone because it was cost probative to fly people back and forth between locations and weekly calls were being missed by many in the group. Setting up a simple video conferencing unit for both teams can be relatively cheap compared to travel expenses. Additionally, both sides can see who is showing up for these meetings.

2. How much does this cost?

The real question is, “How much do you want to spend?” There are offerings at almost every price point. For the home user, the cost is not prohibitive. It is easy to find a reasonable quality web cam for less than $100 for a PC. If you prefer the computers made by Apple Inc., you should be aware that all new laptops (MacBook and MacBook Pro), as well as the iMac line of products all have Web cams, called iSight, built-in standard. In the event that the people you are attempting to videoconference are not available at the time, you can actually record a presentation, and they can view it at a later date.

3. Is this related to VoIP?

Indeed, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is simply being able to do telephone style communication over the Internet (receiving and sending calls). Skype is a piece of software that handles both VoIP (it can call telephones with its’ SkypeOut Service), and you can also do video conferencing from one Skype user to another.

4. What do I need to get started?

The most basic hardware setup will require a reasonably new computer, high-speed Internet access, a web cam, and microphone (if there isn’t one embedded in your computer or camera). The software to facilitate the communication (AIM, iChat Av, Skype) AIM, Skype can be downloaded from www.aim.com or www.skype.com, while iChat is included with every Apple computer sold (it can communicate with users on AIM).

Remember, to actually communicate, you will need someone with a compatible setup on the other end.

6. What other ways are there to communicate with video and audio on the Web?

You can hold audio and video based meetings using tools like Goto Meeting and WebEx. These can sometimes be considered ‘demos’, or ‘webinars’. These types of meetings use something called screen sharing, where the meeting facilitator is basically giving a presentation to a large group via the Internet–it could be a PowerPoint, or a demo of an application on the facilitators’ computer for all to see. Or the facilitator could be hosting a ‘white boarding’ session where all users listen, talk, see and can contribute to the on-screen whiteboard that all participants can write on and add to.

7. Are there any minimum requirements I should have to do web conferencing?

Absolutely, but relatively, they are not terribly difficult to achieve. At the minimum you should have a high-speed Internet connection, especially if you wish to host multiple parties in a chat. At the bare minimum, a 512/256kbit (down/up) connection is recommended for most video conferencing applications.

8. What are some other uses for my Web cam?

There are plenty of popular and niche uses of Web cams. One use that has gained momentum is using a Web cam as a “security” type of camera. In this mode, you have a Web site that only you can access where you can watch the nanny/kids/pets at home while you sit at your desk at work. Additionally, “beach cams” and “traffic cams” are becoming increasingly popular, as a mass audience wants to know what a location looks like in a view only, yet live, status. Some of these types of cams have controls to adjust viewing angle, etc.

9. Do I need a Web cam to video chat?

If you want to be seen, YES! With many applications including iChat and Skype, someone with a web cam can easily start a video chat with you. If both participants have a Web cam, both will be able to see video and hear audio. Otherwise, the person without a camera can only listen.

10. I have a high-speed connection, as does the person I am trying to talk to. Why does the connection degrade terribly?

Network issues are sometimes very hard to diagnose. A few basic things to try is to lower the quality of the video/audio you wish to communicate with (it is possible that on one end the bandwidth require for communication is not as high as it is supposed to be). Additionally, you can make sure you have the most up to date video codec for the type of video chat you wish to engage in.

However, it is also important to note that the quality of both the voice and video portions of your call depend upon many factors. Initially, the first item to check is the software. Additionally, there may be issues at either end of the Internet connection or in between. Going through normal network troubleshooting would be the most efficient use of time.

Finally, the quality of the Web cam and microphone will have a direct relationship to the quality of the communication.

11. Have any tips once it’s all set up?

I would highly recommend that you use a pair of headphones and a decent quality microphone. This will make a huge difference in the quality of your chats. Using speakers with your microphone may result in bad sound quality, as the microphone will pick up what the person you are talking to is saying, creating an echo. One of the best ways to get your headphones and microphone in one package is through a headset. Companies such as Plantronics have made their business around this model of headphone/microphone combination headsets for a whole range of devices, including VoIP and video conferencing, which can use the same headsets.

12. Are there other types of video you can create with a Webcam?

A very popular form of communication that has sprouted upon the Internet is the YouTube/Podcast style of video. They can be created with a simple Web cam and posted and shared or viewed later by an audience waiting.

However, businesses, too, are seeing the potential in Web conferencing. Web conferencing can be a viable replacement for IM and telephone conversation, real-time video and audio-based conversation.


Photo credit: Justin Marty via photo pin cc