Shining a light on Video Conferencing
Ease of Installation:
I came into the test without any pre-knowledge of the service and I was unaware that a separate VC service was required as this product is essentially a bridging service. After I figured that out, there was no problem as I used my Skype account to connect to a meeting. This process was fairly simple just as any website registration would be. Login with email and password; receive a confirmation email with which the account is activated.
After subscribing you receive an email with the link for the use of the service, the personal conference ID and two passcodes, one for Moderator and one for the Participant. That’s all; you then have only to use it.
I used Skype as it was the only compatible host system I had on my PC. I would have liked to use an H323 compatible device (both hardware and software type) to see how the service operates with dedicated HD type VC equipment. (see later in this review for comments re H323, Ed)
On our test call there was an issue regarding participant pin numbers. This highlighted the rather clunky experience of joining the call. The joining email contains multiple IP addresses which may be confusing for the occasional or non-technical user. However once I figured out which link to click entry into the call was seamless.
Note, this product is available as a free trial, however be aware that whether you go via VideoMeet or directly to BlueJeans Network, your email address can only be used for one trial.
In my test we were both using Skype and there were no compatibility issues. No hardware or software problems with my existing setup as there was nothing to install.
Compatibility is the big selling point of the service. It certainly is the only way that I’m aware of currently to bridge a Skype call with H323 calls in a multipoint environment. It’s possible to use LifeSize passport for Skype calls but that is limited to 1-1.
During the test, I successfully used a lot of devices to connect: Skype, http, H.323 legacy end-point via internet, H.323 legacy end-point via ISDN, all in the same conference via the VideoMeet bridge.
It doesn’t cover all video standards though. I was disappointed that I could not use Vidyo’s H-264 SVC protocol to connect as well.
Unfortunately, and probably due to line problems, the video was sometimes out of sync with the audio and the ISDN device didn’t work well.
The VideoMeet bridge is able to utilise all the devices on the market in the same meeting room but for good results you need a good line.
This is a service and not a solution, so compatibility does not come into play until the service is used. The service states that it works with Lync, Google Talk, Skype and traditional room systems. I have tested this with three of the four options; Skype, Lync and traditional room systems.
Traditional room systems work well, as long as you are using H323. I tried a few times to contact the service using SIP, but the solution does not answer. However, the process of joining using H323 is simple and works well.
Skype also works fairly well as long as you are using Skype on a PC. I tried on the iPad client, but did not find out how to dial a URI.
Lync did not work, I now understand that you need to arrange federation with VideoMeet / BlueJeans Network. I contacted the service desk and there is a configuration sheet that they can email but due to time constraints I was not able to apply this. On contacting the service desk, they took my email and sent out a configuration document to enable federation to BJN. This will require administrator intervention and in my view it needs to be more obvious on the website.
Score: 7.75 /10
There will certainly be a continuing need for a service to bridge disparate and incompatible video protocols until such time as all manufacturers subscribe to a common standard. As this is unlikely to be any time soon, if ever, services such as VideoMeet will have a market into the foreseeable future
Like other ‘video as a service providers’, if the company ceases to exist, so does the product. That being said, they are providing an excellent service.
On the outside, yes this is definitely future-proof. The BJN solution is the first and only one (that I am aware of) that can host so many varied connection types. This is definitely where VC needs to be, as users want to use a solution that is known to them. The only long term issue I see is what happens when Google or Skype changes code without the time required for BJN to do the required upgrades. Are the relationships with Google and Microsoft close enough to not cause any issues for users? (BJN assures us this is the case. Ed)
Resilience in use
The on screen image changed slightly during the meeting, as it automatically negotiated around bandwidth issues. Some of the time the images got better, some times worse. Every now and again some ghosting would appear but based on the bandwidth we were using it was more than acceptable.
The system has some problems with poor or very noisy lines, as does any system, and sometimes the audio and video was not perfectly synchronized, and I experienced image freezing and loss of video. To restore a good situation you have to stop and reconnect to the bridge. But if you have a good connection there are no problems.
We had an acceptable 3-way call over a variety of broadband service standards. There were a number of issues with video dropping off, although audio was generally maintained at a high standard. There were no diagnostics available to see if the drop-outs were the result of the VideoMeeet service or caused by the underlying host service. It’s hard to see that this would be acceptable in many business situations.
I have made a few test calls so far and apart from trying to connect Lync, all have gone well. Calls have lasted for at least 30 minutes and no issues occurred during these calls.
Ease of use
You can subscribe to and use the system in a few steps, it is impossible to fail. Easy to use with any end point and the website is very clear.
The product/service is incredibly easy as long as you understand how the actual video product you are using works (Skype, IP codec, etc). The product itself isn’t really in play that much in the hands of the user. An email with meeting details was sent from the moderator with a link to the website. Log in and you are ready. However there is double functionality: BlueJeans combined with whatever video provider you are using. Having two ways to turn off your camera or mute your audio isn’t a particularly good idea for non-technical people.
The service adds a layer of complexity over and above the underlying host system that is being used. Initially it was quite confusing to join the call. A more intuitive interface would be appreciated, along with an indication of how security is dealt with – i.e. who can join the call.
A further issue is that some of the features of the host system are not compatible with VideoMeet (e.g. instant messaging in Skype). However these were still available to the user. This means they might initially try to use these extra features, oblivious to the fact that other participants would not see this – but I am sure they’d soon find out what the limitations are.
As this has been designed for multiple connection types it allows users to conference with a familiar tool. This immediately gives the user a level of confidence and peace of mind. The only difficulty I have had is around the Lync connection. There is a degree of configuration that needs to be done here, but this is not initially obvious.
Score: 7.75 /10
Due to the Lync issues I did contact the service desk, which was located in Germany. There is a requirement for an organisation running Lync to federate with BJN to enable this connection to happen. The support was great; the agent understood my issues and had an answer for me.
The video quality depends on the lines and the type of the device in use. If you have a good line with a good device, you enjoy good video.
As always this is heavily reliant on your network connection, but based on the calls I had, the video was great. Calls from Skype that I was viewing on my H323 device looked clear with few, if any, interruptions.
The video was better than other services I have tested from my home office, with its bandwidth limitations. I was using Skype and it seemed better over VideoMeet than in its native mode, but of course that could simply be down to speed on the day.
In use, the participants are ranged along the foot of the screen, with the person who is talking being promoted to centre-screen. When someone else talks they are promoted in turn and the previous speaker is demoted. If video input is lost from one member, they are shown as an icon, vibrating when they speak. This automatic promotion and demotion irritated one of our conference participants, the others were quite happy with it.
The audio quality was always very good, both with cheap microphone and with more expensive device. No feedback or noise during the call with any device.
As with video, the audio quality was great. Apart from a couple of minor hiccups during a 40 minute call the audio was clear from multiple connections and interface types.
I was using a good microphone/camera combo mounted on my screen together with good quality speakers and the audio was very realistic – faultless I would say, and the other participants commented on the good quality they were receiving from me
Size limitations for multi-point conferences
Value for money
Value is always subjective. If your goal is to have multi-point meetings over various platforms, this may be the product for you. A 1,000 minute package with no rollover is €350 / month for VideoMeet in Europe (with a conversion to £ Sterling for the UK). If you are in the USA and you go directly with BlueJeans, which VideoMeet is powered by, it is $399/month for the same 1,000 minutes. BlueJeans does not supply directly in Europe.
The pricing available on the web seems reasonable enough compared to other services out there today, and it is refreshing to see clear pricing up front, which few competitors seem able or willing to do.
However we should also mention Skype’s Premium service at $10/month that allows for group calling. Of course this is only between Skype clients but should be noted.
Score: 8 /10
How does it rate against main competitors?
At the moment VidoMeet / BlueJeans Network appears to be a unique offering.
Although Vidyo offers the same type of service in some respects, VideoMeet surpassed my expectations with the quality of the call from the USA to the UK. There were no audio issues that some software services have in regards to the dreaded audio echo feedback loop. I also appreciate the straightforward pricing
VideoMeet can provide multiple connections from multiple connection types. This is not only rare, but also important for the future of video communication. Competitors are offering traditional VC, Skype gateways or bespoke connections, whereas VideoMeet bridges a large number of popular tools.
Overall Score: 8/10
Technical Panelists for Vidyo Desktop were:
About the TP&VC Insight Technical Panel
The Telepresence and Video Conferencing Insight Technical Panel consists of a group of experienced technicians and users. For each review a sub-set of panellists give their subjective views of a product – in other words we provide you with some practical insight that should cut through the supplier’s marketing puff.
In order to encourage panellists to give their unvarnished opinions their individual comments are anonymous, and their individual scores are aggregated to ensure best possible balance. TP&VC Insight will query any notable difference in scoring between judges on any topic in order to clarify any misunderstanding.