Marc Jordan Paxton
(Operations Manager, SunTilla, Inc.)
Mr. Dortch is correct; the reason personal video conferencing (and video conferencing technology in general) has, up to this point, been limited by bandwidth. Also, most use 'personal' video conferencing in a home environment, where the standard has become increasingly geared toward WIRELESS technology. Seeing as that is my bread and butter, let me speak from that point of view.
In the 802.11b/g technology, which has been the standard for the last 8 or so years, has a maximum of 56 Mbps (megabits per second). This has allowed for some advances in the video conferencing realm. So even though personal video conferencing in possible, it tends to be choppy at times. Plus, people at either end of the conversation need to have at least a 7 Mbps connection to make it work semi-decently, which, for most home users, is becoming the base package deal now. Unfortunately, for speeds greater than 7 Mbps, the cost skyrockets. So, for personal use, the cost is a HUGE barrier to entry as well.
Things are looking up, though. With the new 802.11n standard (if it ever becomes official), you can get wireless speeds as fast as wired connections, which will be more than sufficient for personal video conferencing. This is exciting for those of us in the wireless networking industry, but for it to become the new standard, more companies need to push the technology boundaries. As that happens more and more, I believe it will push the technology forward. Within the next two years, I predict that we will see leaps and bounds in wireless technology, especially in terms of wireless video conferencing.
(Principal, J Arnold & Associates)
Just a couple of thoughts to add here. Technology improvements have a lot to do with this, especially broadband. Another area of advancement are the video codecs that Paul referred to. Companies like Global IP Solutions have really pushed codecs along to enable a quality video experience in almost any settting. Outside the controlled environment of a boardroom, when you consider all the variables around bandwidth availability, PC operating systems, webcam quality, lighting conditions, audio/acoustics, etc., video conferencing has a lot of challenges. In short, it's much better now.
The other thing to quickly mention is that this mode of communicating is largely a generational thing. Not everyone over 30 is as comfortable with video as Michael, but it's pretty intuitive for our kids. They've grown up around the Internet and MTV, so this is really not an invasive mode for them. It's definitely mainstream for this audience, and I only see this growing, especially as mobile broadband and smartphones combine to make mobile video second nature. On that note, the latest version of Skype has better mobile and group video capabilities, and once you get comfortable with services like this, video quickly becomes an everyday tool.
I am not sure video is ever going to be a mainstream business application. Even if the technology was flawless and easy to use, you still have people involved. The lighting and camera angles all impact the quality of the video.
In the end, all you really get is a bunch of talking heads. A conference call combined with a WebX presentation is far more effective than seeing a persons lips move.
I think seeing a family member's lips move is a lot more meaningful than seeing a colleague's lips move.
Andrew S. Baker (ASB)
(Information Security & IT Operations Consultant, BrainWave Consulting Company, LLC)
Isn't video mainstream already? :)
As others have already pointed out, it's largely bandwidth and integration that have limited video conferencing at an individual level. At a corporate level, the technology is still complex enough that funds have been put in other areas.
At the desktop level, there is little interoperability between solutions. Both parties have to be running the same client, usually, and there has not been full consensus on which client -- even with Skype have a lot of attention and popularity in this area.
As travel costs continue to remain high, video conferencing will gain traction as a means to pursue face-to-face discussions.
It's not quite mainstream, but it's getting there...