Recently there has been a bit of excitement in our community regarding using Zoom Video Conferencing as a gateway to reach potential audience that may not have invested in a full suite of Standard Based (H.323) v/c kit. Think of Zoom as Skype on steroids! You can set up a meeting, invite guests, and have them connect simply through their browser. There is no complicated software to install and everything works through the browser without having to install additional software, which is great for companies which have restrictions on such things.
On of the most exciting things for us is that Zoom is free, so anybody you invite to a meeting can use it. And the fact that they provide what they call a H.323 Room Connector. This optional extra can be purchased for a small price of $US49/mo and enables H.323 video conferencing units to join the meeting. Which finally means that we can connect all our v/c units and users together in one big conference!
This all sounds fantastic but there are a few caveats that you should be aware of. Firstly you need to know that DART has (for the moment) put a ban on using Zoom to dial directly into their system. The main reason for this is that the connection that Zoom creates is forced to a connection speed of 6 megabits per second. This is far to fast for DARTs front end points and causes congestion and high usage, resulting in poor experience for other users on the network. To work around this you will need to dial directly into Zoom using your H.323 device so as a result means that it is unusable with DET schools as you need to use DART to connect to them. However as you will read I have been able to work around this using two H.323 devices.
Secondly, unless your guest using the H.323 room connector and a standards based v/c unit, then they will be using their computer which mean they will also be using the webcam and microphone which is included. Generally these built in devices are fairly cheap and are designed to work with just a single person not an entire room of people, so depending on your application the results not be acceptable.
If you really want to take full advantage of what Zoom has to offer you can configure a set up in which you use two H.323 units and a video switcher such as a Tricaster. To do this you would dial the first H.323 unit into DART as you normally would and the second unit would dial into Zoom. In this scenario any schools you need to engage would be connected at the DART end and any ‘special guests’ could be connected to Zoom. Exactly who sees what is controlled by the vision switcher. However, doing this requires quit a bit of technical know how! I have personally done this with a video conference at The Powerhouse Museum and the results where similar to that of a TV broadcast. You can see for yourself HERE.
Is Zoom worth the investment ? Probably….. for $US49/mo I think it’s worth at least trying out, you may find that you have no use for it or your organisation does not have the technical ability for it, but you would not have lost much in doing so. But you may also find that your audience reach has been massively extended and the return will be far greater than the small investment.
Stephen Bancroft is an an Electrical Engineer and Computing expert, he has over twenty years experience with internet based technologies and has worked extensively with live sound and broadcast. He is currently writing technical articles exclusively for VEA.