Tag Archives: Vidyo

TxDLA: Skype vs. Standards-based VC: The Showdown

Here are links and resources for my second TxDLA presentation today (Skype vs. Standards-Based VC: The Showdown):


H.323 Desktop VC Options (a few… please comment to add more)

Hybrid / Cross-Over Solutions

  • Vidyo (send a link to anyone to join your VC; also connects to H.323)
  • Blue Jeans Network (connect Skype, phone, H.323 etc. all in the same conference)

Previous Blog Comparisons

Please feel free to comment, add additional resources, or share different views!

The VC Continuum I Recommend to My Schools

As we end this week of talking about desktop VC, I thought it might be helpful for me to share the continuum of videoconferencing that I recommend to the schools in the two counties that I serve. This may be helpful to know the perspective I’m coming from when I evaluate desktop VC.

I’ve made a more generic overview of the videoconferencing continuum before, but here’s what I recommend to my schools.

What We Have Already

Remember we have:

  • 70 Polycom Viewstations and VSX 7000 endpoints; 1 LifeSize 200 installed last week; 1 Polycom QDX  6000 installed last fall
  • Tandberg infrastructure: MCU, Gatekeeper, IP-ISDN Gateway, and Tandberg Management Suite for scheduling

I still have about another 20-30 schools in my service area that don’t have VC in their school building.

How We Use VC

  • We do about 700-900 videoconferences a year.
  • All our videoconferences are with standards based H323 units.
  • 60% of them are with other schools – collaborative projects etc. 59% of those are out of our service area; 45% of them are out of state; 5% are out of the U.S.
  • 15% of our VCs are with content providers: zoos, museums, GNG, NASA, etc.
  • 15% of our VCs are ASK programs: interviews with authors or specialists: either ones we run for our schools or TWICE ASK.
  • The last 10%  are meetings and professional development, mostly within county or content we get from the state.
  • Many of the teachers just walk into the room to do the VC. The call has already been set up by me or the VC coordinator in the school, and presets are already set if needed. All the teacher has to think about is the muting and unmuting if they are in a multipoint, and the presets if their class is presenting or participating in an ASK program, and of course preparing their students on the curriculum side. Often I’m listening to the VC so if something goes wrong, I can fix it for the teacher.

Ideally a VC cart

Most of our equipment was purchased with grants. When that is possible, I prefer an installation that includes:

  • The H323 videoconference system: LifeSize, Polycom, or Tandberg
  • HD if it can be afforded
  • A sturdy but lightweight cart
  • A 37 to 50 inch monitor
  • A document camera
  • An Avermedia QuickPlay to connect the computer in via S-Video (yes, yes, I know, lower quality, but guaranteed to work with anything we connect to) or any other method that connects the computer that is NOT H.239/People Plus Content/DuoVideo
  • In our latest installation we also had a DVD/VCR, but I wouldn’t recommend that now. My schools never use it.
  • If possible, installed with an IP address NATed. In only one district do we have a firewall traversal unit, and we’re trying to make it work without it because the extension dialing is such a pain.
  • 3 years maintenance on the VC system at least! Usually my districts can’t afford maintenance after the grant runs out, so if we’re using a grant we always do 3 years maintenance. I also strongly urge any districts buying their own unit to buy 3 year maintenance on it.
  • This list is about $7000-9000.

Next Best, Mobile Within the District

Two of my districts were not eligible for the latest RUS grant. When we switched from ISDN to IP in 2005, their PictureTel Concordes were obsolete.

  • These two districts have a Polycom VSX 7000 in a box.
  • It connects to the TV in the classroom or a projector.
  • If a document camera is needed, it is borrowed from elsewhere to use with VC.
  • The district tech moves it from school to school, and updates the network settings as it moves.
  • This setup is just the codec only. So it could be as low as $2000-5000.

Next Best, Buy Old Units

  • In a couple of my other schools, they purchased refurbished or gently used VC systems. In one case from eBay. In the other case from their network services provider which had some extra Polycom Viewstations kicking around. (Another place would be The Videoconference Store, which sells used systems.)
  • Both of these scenarios use existing TVs/projectors/carts.
  • This setup could cost around $1000-$3000.

Interactive 21st Century Classrooms

That brings me to the next scenario: 2-5 school districts that have or are purchasing interactive whiteboards and installing them in every classroom. Each of these districts sees the value of VC as we use it in the curriculum. They all have teachers who are tired of getting the cart to VC in their classroom or going to the library or fixed room. (Kind of funny really. I remember when they were tired of busing to the high school to VC.)

These districts COULD spend their funds to upgrade their existing system to HD. But the possibility of VC in every classroom is intriguing and tempting.

  • Whiteboard plus short throw projector means the display is already there.
  • Some of these teachers are already doing Skype on their interactive whiteboard. So why not H.323 also!?
  • It needs to cost the same or less to put VC in every classroom than they would spend to upgrade their carts to HD and 50 inch LCD monitors.
  • H.323 standards based videoconference is a must.

This is one of the main reasons I’ve been investigating desktop VC (in case you missed the posts, so far I’ve looked at Mirial, Vidyo, and Polycom CMA Desktop. In the future, also need to look at Tandberg Movi and LifeSize Desktop at least).

Desktop VC On a Cart

Finally, the other scenario is for our private schools and districts that don’t have VC yet, but definitely want it. They aren’t eligible for grants – not poor enough or not rural enough or not a public school. But they also don’t have enough funding to buy the ideal VC cart or even the refurbished units. They need something under $500.

  • They could use an existing laptop and projector cart (many of them are sharing the projector in the school this way already).
  • Plus a webcam for $100-ish.
  • Plus a microphone for $150-ish. (I’ve tried out the Clear One Chat in a classroom situation with very poor results; next I’ll be trying the Phoenix Duet.)
  • Plus $120 for Polycom PVX or something similar with one of the other options that I’m exploring.
  • HD is NOT essential as their projector and laptop are probably older anyway.

So, that’s where I’m coming from as I evaluate desktop VC. I’m trying to get more VC to my schools. More H323 VC!

What do you think? Is this similar to what you recommend to your schools? What would you add or change? Please feel free to comment!

Thinking Again About Vidyo

This post continues the journey to figure out how to get videoconferencing in the 21st century classrooms in our county. I’ve been learning about Vidyo over the last several months. Here are some early posts: first learning about Vidyo, and Craig’s comments about the future of VC in schools, and the results of the fall experiment with Vidyo hosted by Craig.


  • Quality. Everytime I see Vidyo I am amazed at the quality. I’ve seen it under a variety of conditions, including the pretty low quality of conference bandwidth at our MACUL workshop and it has been excellent.
  • Easy Link. More like a webinar, when you want to participate, the host sends you a link to click and after a little download you are up & running. It’s really easy. Imagine sending this link to an author or expert to talk to your students.
  • Mac and PC. It works on both the Mac and the PC, which is an essential feature for our use.
  • H323 connectivity through a gateway. This is both a pro and a con, but at least it includes H323 connectivity! That is also a must for us!


  • CPU intensive. It requires a newer computer and in some cases you may have to close all the other applications in order for Vidyo to run well.
  • Echo-cancellation. The echo-cancellation isn’t totally there yet, but I know they are working on it and it keeps getting better.
  • Cost structure. The more I learn about other server based videoconference tools, the less I’m excited about Vidyo. If you have your own server, there is an annual license for the software, as well as the cost per download. However, you could also access Vidyo through a reseller and depending on their plans, just pay for the use you have. However, this scenario seems to be designed for much less frequent use of VC than we have.
  • H323 connectivity through a gateway. This is also a con because the gateway is limited in the number of connections it can do. It’s really designed for you to use for mostly Vidyo to Vidyo calls, with a few calls to H323 here and there. Whereas 95% of our calls are off our network via H323. So this solution would drastically limit the number of calls we can do at at time. In addition, a “Hollywood squares” layout within Vidyo doesn’t connect well to a “Hollywood squares” layout on an H323 bridge (the same problem you have with connecting this layout between two H323 bridges).
  • Pet Peeve: Legacy. I do have one little pet peeve about how Vidyo refers to H323. They call anything that is H323 “legacy”. Legacy is a term used in the videoconferencing industry to mean a videoconference system that is no longer supported. For example, our Polycom Viewstations are legacy because there are no more software updates coming out for them. But to call ALL H323 legacy is offensive to me. As if no one else is making anything new in H323. Which obviously isn’t true at all. Calling all H323 stuff legacy is really annoying to me! Just my little quirk I guess!

Conclusion. For our area at least, Vidyo does not seem to be the ideal solution. We do too many calls off our network. However, for meetings or professional development or scenarios where most calls are within a district or region, it may be a potential solution. I just prefer to invest in VC that we can use for all applications: content providers, student projects and collaborations, meetings, professional development, classes, etc.

A Couple Places to Get a Demo

If you want to try it out, you could contact one of these places. I’m sure there are more, so feel free to comment if you want to add to this list.

So what do YOU think? Please comment if you have any additional insights or comments on using Vidyo in K12 education.

Experimenting with Desktop VC Part 2

Last Wednesday Craig Mollerstuen from GCI Alaska hosted another experimentation session for desktop videoconferencing options. We keep talking about ways these tools can be used to bring VC to the classroom and to bring outside experts to the classroom.

I’m a little slow writing this up, but the need continues. I had a small private school call me on Friday with a request to get VC. They had a donation for $500. For now we are seeing if Polycom PVX will run on the older computers that the school has.

So on Wednesday, we had a group of people connected on the Vidyo side:

And another set of people connected on the H323 side:

Just like hooking two bridges together, it’s not possible to have all the sides in all the squares.

Notice the great quality of the picture on both sides of the VC (from the Region 12 perspective).

The Vidyo sites are connected through a Vidyo H323 router which was connected to a Polycom MGC which connected the H323 sites.

Audio & Video Gear
One of the things we talked about was different types of mics and video cameras that work well for making desktop VC work in the classroom:

  • Clearone Chat 50: Some liked it, some didn’t. The audio was a little low.
  • Phoenix Duet: This had more recommendations from the people attending; the Phoenix Quattro also was recommended but is in the $500 range.
  • The Logitech 9000 also had high recommendations, but isn’t easily mounted for classroom use. It’s designed for the laptop of course.

Some issues with Vidyo
Issues with Vidyo that came up during the discussion included:

  • You can’t change your audio settings during the call – you have to disconnect and reconnect after changing the audio source/settings.
  • Another issue is the regular updates that are required – something that can be problematic for schools that can’t upgrade constantly because of computers locked down. This raised another question for me – do all the sites in a Vidyo call have to be on the same version? That could potentially be an issue doing Vidyo across installations of it like we do with H323 between schools.
  • Sharing content (h239) doesn’t cross Vidyo to H323. For me, this doesn’t matter as H239 drives me crazy anyway. I prefer AverMedia QuickPlay to connect the computer to H323 unit; and I don’t expect to have h239 on my desktop/classroom VC rigged setup.

Potential Applications
Some ideas we discussed of how to use this included:

  • Bringing in remote sites without VC
  • Bringing in guest speakers, authors, lawyers, any single person who doesn’t have easy access to full VC

Issues with Rigging Desktop VC for Classroom Use
We also talked about some of the challenges of trying this.

  • The web camera doesn’t have pan, tilt, zoom. On the other hand, if we’re competing against Skype and/or trying to bring H323 VC content to schools that are using Skype, they don’t really need pan, tilt, zoom.
  • USB cables would be good to extend the length of the mic and webcam so that there is more flexibility to classroom use.
  • An appliance is simple and easy for the teacher to use; it is much more complex to get all this working. It potentially could take more tech support and tinkering to make this work for cheaper. Is that totally true? One of my district techs called last week for help – the SVideo cable for the main camera was in the wrong place. Even the appliance still needs VC support. Both would need support, I think.
  • Mic quality is definitely an issue. Nothing’s going to work as nice as my favorite Polycom VSX 7000 mic or Viewstation mic. The person speaking has to be right in front of the mic to work.
  • Integrated sound on an interactive whiteboard could really cause problems – echo – cancellation is an issue too. Vidyo is supposed to have echo cancellation soon.
  • Another issue is having a powerful enough computer in the classroom. Schools tend have older computers.


We talked a wee bit about Creative’s InPerson.

  • It’s H323.
  • It has a fixed camera.
  • Costs about $800 ish.
  • People on a browser can connect to it.

Some Concluding Thoughts
Some thoughts from the group….

  • It’s possible to do this, but could be challenging to make it work. Could take a lot of tinkering.
  • If I missed anything that you found important from the meeting, please add comments below!

By the way, this was a pretty cool little meeting. When does it happen that someone sets up a videoconference to continue a discussion that started on a blog? Thanks Craig for making this possible!

Experimenting with Desktop VC

Last Wednesday afternoon, just before the early close for Thanksgiving, I VCed with Craig in Alaska, and Janet & Rachel in New Zealand to experiment with desktop VC.

Rachel beat me to it, with a great write up of our little experiment. I totally agree with her, that the big issue is accessibility with VC. How can we make this accessible to more students & classes?! Take a moment to read Rachel’s review!

Future of VC in Schools

Today I’m pulling another comment out to make it a full post. This one is by Craig Mollerstuen from GCI, Alaska. Craig has been involved in VC for as long as I can remember, champions educational use in Alaska, and has served the NECC sessions with VC support for several years. He commented on my question, “what do you see as the future of VC in schools?” Here’s the full comment:

There are lots of different ways to look at this, from community, technology, equipment, pedagogy and other perspectives.

1) Community: Individuals vs. Groups

Skype isn’t optimized for groups where H.323 systems have been. One can connect a good camera (firewire camcorder) and echo canceling speaker/microphones (Phoenix Duet, etc.). But that have very low usability compared to an integrated appliance with high quality, pan/tilt/zoom cameras and good quality microphones with echo canceling built in.  Group ease of use goes to the incumbents.

Individual ease of use goes to Skype (and other desktop solutions.) This is because of the H.323 protocol. It is easy to make a high quality H.323 application (for Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.) but the protocol sucks. It dies across firewalls.

Individuals are also looking for low bandwidth and high quality solutions as they are often “on the move.” Such solutions typically use adaptive encoding which H.323 doesn’t (easily) support.

For groups we accept high bandwidth requirements because we want significantly higher resolution (larger rooms) and we can typically afford to put more bandwidth into a limited number of fixed locations.

2) Protocols – Standard vs. Proprietary

In general, schools would do well to use VC equipment that supports open standards. Standards eventually lead to wider adoption, greater choice and lower cost. However it takes FOREVER for standards to develop and often we can’t (or don’t want to) wait.

Because of it’s reliance on proprietary protocols, there has been many fewer devices that support Skype. And it is hard to find a Skype MCU.

3) Point-to-point vs. Multi-point

We need to be able to do both point-to-point and multi-site conferences. Solutions that are only point-to-point don’t provide sufficient flexibility for education.

Multi-point conferencing needs to be easy to use. Today’s audio conferencing is a good model, dial a number, enter a code and you’re in the conference.

4) Pedagogy – Video conferencing vs. Web conferencing.

This isn’t really pedagogy, but I’m using the term to describe the gulf between “on-line” conferencing and “video” conferencing today.  We need video conferencing to support some of the really great tools that are available in “on-line”/web conferencing environments (chat, polls, forums, breakout rooms, etc.)

And “on-line” environments need to support better and higher quality audio and video, more video and audio streams and group environments.

So… What is the future of live Conferencing in education?

Long term, I can foresee technology that supports the gamut of teachers and teaching styles, learners and learning styles and content types.

Eventually we will have a conferencing protocol that will replace H.323, SIP, Skype and the rest. It will support multiple audio, text, video and content streams from each endpoint.

We’ll see conference servers that support the new protocol (and that can transcode the old protocols) and support a variety of endpoints (analog, wireless, audio, digital, video, room, desktop, appliance, etc.)

Care will have been given to the user interface, ease of use and to pedagogy. We’ll be able to have multiple PTZ cameras in the classroom, audio mics for teachers and students, content from multiple sources (computers, lab equipment, off-net, etc.) so that we don’t have to limit what we are sharing from the “classroom”.  (Develop an open API so that people can develop content widgets.)

Responsible learners will be given the flexibility to choose the streams that they want to view and hear. Learners who need more direction can be given fewer choices and more structure.

And we’ll get all this in a low cost, easy to use, high bandwidth environment with good professional development.

In the near term, we need:

  1. open standards and protocols
  2. conferencing that adapts to low and high bandwidth environments
  3. transport that traverses the net as easily as HTTP
  4. professional quality equipment for content providers, appliances for theatres, classrooms and desktops and software that runs on our computers (fixed and mobile) as endpoints.
  5. We need academics to study and solve the technology problems
  6. We need practitioners to study and solve the practice problems
  7. We need industry to build high quality and low cost solutions

Products like Elluminate, Mirial and Vidyo are good “next steps”. There is still lots and lots of room for improvement and advancement.

Cheers, -Craig-