High Definition (HD) video communications are redefining what people expect from video-conferencing. With higher definition quality, the image is much clearer—enabling meetings to be natural and productive. The image resolution is over nine times better than traditional video-conferencing. To help understand the differences between standard and HD video-conferencing we need to discuss resolution, frame rates, display systems, audio quality, and camera designs.
Traditional video-conferencing has a resolution of 352 pixels wide x 288 pixels high (1/9th of a typical computer display). This is known as “Common Intermediate Format” (CIF). HD offers resolutions at 1280×720 or 1920×1080. This allows for the use of a 16:9 high-definition display to provide a more natural image. HD video-conferencing uses a frame rate of 30 frames per second (fps). Standard video-conferencing can have a frame rate of 15 fps and lower. Higher frame rates mean better motion handling and higher overall picture quality. No more jerky movements!
The display system is a crucial element of the overall video-conferencing system—larger, 16 x 9 wide screens give the viewer the sense of “being there.” Combining a high quality display with HD video-conferencing allows users to experience the nuances of expression and gestures that could not be seen with standard video-conferencing.
To support this improved image, bandwidth (or network data rate) ranging from 1 megabit per second (Mbps) to 4 Mbps is required for HD video-conferencing. (That’s 3 T1 lines!) Traditional videoconferencing requires bandwidth of 384Kbps (That is good quality DSL.)
Audio quality is an often-overlooked element of a successful video-conference. HD video will be of reduced benefit without high quality audio to go along with it. Natural flow of conversation is key to a quality video-conference.
To send HD video over the video-conference CODEC (the hardware/software solution that COdes the information at one end of the video-conference then DECodes it at the other) users must also invest in a HD camera. HD cameras provide greater flexibility. This translates to a clearer picture and an overall wider view of the conference room.
The benefits of video-conferencing are numerous. Tasks such as project meetings, client contact, and even training seminars that would normally require expensive air travel for large corporations are easily and effectively completed by video-conferencing. Effective long distance decision-making has never been easier. Professionals are no longer required to spend their lives on airplanes, which can boost employee loyalty and morale.
HD video-conferencing is used beyond the corporate environment. The education, government and healthcare environments also benefit from the HD experience. Educational institutions use HD video-conferencing technology to connect between multiple educational sites. Teachers and students benefit from full interaction between classmates, teachers and knowledge experts.
The healthcare industry uses HD video-conferencing systems to allow medical professionals to service patients remotely, obtain continuing medical education, and run the day-to-day business of hospitals without loss of quality or care. With HD systems, physicians and other caregivers are able to see detailed symptoms clearly and can assist with a diagnosis from thousands of miles away.
The increased requirements of HD video-conferencing are justified by these benefits, which low bandwidth video-conferencing simply does not offer. However, costs of $25K and up for CODECs; $10K for HD cameras and the increased network costs can easily dissuade an HD purchase. Still, the overwhelming return on investment cannot be ignored and as HD videoconferencing prices drop and technology advances, the opportunity for these systems to be implemented will continue to grow.