Video conferencing, once the exclusive domain of expensive, dedicated-hardware solutions that could cost tens of thousands of dollars a seat, is now fast becoming a commodity. Not just because of cheap HD video cameras that come built into iPads and smartphones, or free online services such as Skype, but because the hardware infrastructure that drives such systems is no longer limited to costly proprietary devices.
Vidyo is one incarnation of the forces behind this process. Founded in 2005, Vidyo has created a platform for video conferencing that works with existing hardware--networks, cameras, and servers--instead of requiring proprietary systems. What's more, the company makes its platform available a virtualization-friendly appliance.
Existing clients include NASA, for which Vidyo provided cross-integration with the agency's existing legacy videoconferencing systems--and, most interestingly, Nintendo, as Wii U's video chat system is an implementation of Vidyo's technology. Vidyo also licenses its technology to third-party telepresence and web-conferencing outfits such as Teliris and Arkadin.
Vidyo's approach revolves around its VidyoRouter architecture, which works over standard IP networks and does not require IT to apply QoS settings on the network. No proprietary codecs are used; it's all industry-standard H.264/SVC, with plenty of existing hardware-accelerated support.
To keep the load on the server light, multiple video signals aren't re-composited into a single feed; instead, the H.264/SVC stream already includes multiple resolutions and frame rates, so the client can automatically adapt to poor network conditions by reducing picture quality.
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A Vidyo-hosted conference I sat in on with four people, myself included, ran without issues on my home's broadband connection, although it did require setting up a small client app on my PC.
As with other video conferencing systems, if you want to set up a conference between two conference rooms, you'll need to install a VidyoRouter at each end. Plugins for the system let you add Vidyo support to Microsoft Office Communicator, Outlook, and Lync, as well as IBM Lotus Sametime and Adobe Connect.
Vidyo claims that its approach obviates the need for pricy hardware MCUs that cost upwards of $10,000 per port. The company claims its approach costs no more than $950 per port. What's more, its software stack is designed to work in a virtualized environment as an appliance, or in the cloud as a service. The Vidyo stack is certified as VMware Ready, although the company said it was eyeing KVM as another environment to support.
While Vidyo does sell its own conference-room hardware, such as the VidyoRoom and VidyoPanorama systems, it's clearly banking on customers using their own existing hardware--whether that consists of similarly high-end installations or BYOD-style devices. The big drawback of the latter is inconsistency of experience. With a bespoke telepresence or video conferencing solution, the hardware may be expensive, but it guarantees consistency of resolution and quality.
A BYOD model for video conferencing may be more flexible, but the quality of the video from and to each client varies widely: few people would dare to compare the front-end camera on a smartphone or iPad to the cameras for a high-end, immersive telepresence system. That said, Vidyo is clearly banking on the ongoing improvement in consumer-level hardware to close that gap over time.