Getting Attached to H.264

Last year I muttered about H.261, H.263 and H.264 la la land. This year, not only have some of these odd problems settled down, but I’ve also begun to appreciate the quality that H.264 brings to the videoconference.

But first, a quick little lesson from my admittedly educational and not-so-techie perspective.

A Little Background
, H.263 and H.264 are video protocols within the H.323/H.320 videoconferencing standards. It’s also partly the algorithms used in compressing the video to send to the far site. H.261 is the oldest videoconference standard. H.263 is still very commonly used. H.264 has been the latest until HD came along. But in K12 videoconferencing, we’re still operating basically on H.261, H.263 and H.264.

If you’re like me, you haven’t really thought about these protocols at all. You just connect and if it works you’re happy! You see a wide variety of quality, but you chalk it up to whatever is happening on the network between you and the far site. Or like a true VC pro, you blame it on the other guy’s unit.

Seeing the Difference
But now, you can know what’s really making the difference. I’ve started to notice the difference. Having lived in H.261 land for so long, I didn’t know what I was missing. And I admit I’ve been slightly annoyed with people off my network who wanted to see higher quality. Since we are always bandwidth strapped, I figure if you can make a connection and have a conversation, it’s good enough for learning to happen. And shall we judge the quality of partners for educational projects based on their bandwidth? It just seems wrong to me.

But now I must admit I understand a bit better. My new VC schools are noticing a great difference when connecting directly to my endpoint and connecting to multipoint activities on my bridge with many different kinds of sites connecting. When they connect to my Polycom VSX 7000, it almost always connects at H.264. But when they connect to an multipoint ASK or MysteryQuest program, all types of video qualities are represented.

So How Do You Know?
On the Polycom VSX 7000 series (which I use mainly now), when you are in a call, you can press the yellow help button the remote to see the call statistics. On this first screen you can see how it connected, the IP address of the far site, the protocols it’s using, and the packet loss. All very useful information once you know what it means.

On the Tandberg codecs, you can find these same details under the Call Status menu area. Thanks Arnie for help with that!

Getting Attached to H.264
H.264 is designed for low-bandwidth situations and uses a lot of processing power, so you really notice the difference with 384K and lower connections. I’m starting to really like the high quality. I’ve also noticed with both Polycom and Tandberg that when you connect the same vendor unit together, you often get higher quality (but that can vary based on the network too). Must be some magic in there somewhere.

It’s funny how we adapt to what we see most often. I’m starting to really like the looks of H.264!

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