As you know, I’ve been on a journey to figure out how to get videoconferencing in the 21st century classrooms in our county. Last fall, on a recommendation from a blog commenter, I started experimenting with Mirial Softphone; a desktop VC tool.
I was initially interested in Mirial over Polycom PVX as a desktop stand alone tool for these reasons:
- I didn’t have to make any network or firewall changes and it worked. So easy!!
- It works on the Mac (Polycom PVX is PC only).
- It registered to my GK, and can do H.239.
- It connected fine to my Polycom endpoints and Tandberg bridge.
Cons / Issues
- One of the first issues I ran into was how to buy Mirial. With a school account it would be hard to buy something online from Europe that was in euros! I did, however, find a reseller in Michigan. I also found out that you have to buy it in packs of 3; and that it would be 3 Mac licenses or 3 PC licenses; but not a mix. This complicates things a bit.
- I tried this out on three of our school networks. On two of them it worked great; no configuration needed for the firewall. On the third network we were stuck. Could not get it to work on the network without going through the hoops that we’d do for a full videoconference system (NAT, etc.).
I like Mirial for schools that are Mac based and are “on their own” – i.e. no regional videoconference support. I have connected to several schools who have a Polycom PVX “cart” with a laptop and projector, varying qualitys of web cam/PTZ camera, and a microphone. Mirial seems to be the best way that I’ve seen for doing this type of installation with a Mac.
Server Based Desktop VC
I’m just starting to learn about the advantages of server based desktop videoconferencing. The more I read; the more I realize that the cost is a huge factor. If we were to install standalone desktop VC (Polycom PVX or Mirial) in all the 21st century classrooms, the cost would climb very quickly. However, with server based desktop videoconferencing, many of the cost models are set up by concurrent videoconferences; NOT by the number of computers with the software installed. In places with regional videoconference support (like my area and my schools), it seems much more cost effective to go the server route. More on additional options (i.e. Vidyo and Polycom CMA Desktop) in future posts.
For now, though, one last tidbit from my email today: a Wainhouse Research Bulletin quote:
Milan-based Mirial released ClearSea, a new client-server desktop videoconferencing solution supporting both PC and Mac users as well as H.323 room systems. Features include a centralized directory, user group management, integration with Active Directory/LDAP, full remote configuration and upgrade of desktop clients. The port-based licensing and the possibility to download unlimited copies of the client makes the product extremely scalable without the need to worry about unused accounts. ClearSea provides the ability to connect the local (on-LAN) and remote (off-LAN) desktop users across their firewalls and to their SIP or H.323 legacy conferencing room systems, without the need of any external gateway or bridge. The product also embeds a video IVR to call users by extensions and an “autoscan” feature for finding existing room systems.
So, it seems clear that there are very interesting and promising developments in H323 desktop videoconferencing. Stay tuned for more reflections in future posts.