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Business Videoconferencing Showdown: Meet Face-to-Face

September 6, 2011 | Hogan Keyser
By Robert Strohmeyer, PC World

With telecommuters and outside contractors now serving vital roles in most small to midsize companies, it has become increasingly important to be able to meet face-to-face with people across the building, across town, or across the ocean without physically transporting ourselves around.

Fortunately, video-based conferencing services have evolved to meet this demand, making it easier than ever to share documents, demonstrate software, and work collaboratively on a shared whiteboard from the comfort of your desktop PC.

To help you choose the right videoconferencing system for your business, we took five of the most compelling services--8x8 Virtual Room, Adobe Connect, Cisco WebEx Meeting Center, Citrix GoToMeeting, and Fuze Meeting--for a spin.

In selecting the services to cover in this roundup, we looked at numerous options, including stand-alone video services like Google Chat and Skype, that do only video and audio. But ultimately we settled on five services that offer comprehensive collaboration features as well as accessibility across an array of devices. Though many of the basic features of these services are similar, each brings unique benefits to the virtual table. We judged each one on its user interface, its management features, its collaboration capabilities, and the quality of its video experience.

8x8 Virtual Room

8x8 Virtual Room videoconferencing service.

Known for its hardware-based conferencing systems, 8x8 has been serving up VOIP phone service to the business world since 2002, but it's less well known to mainstream users. The company's new Virtual Room videoconferencing service stands out from the others in this roundup for offering scalable support for advanced video phones and telepresence hardware without requiring businesses to deploy their own on-premises infrastructure.

What it costs: $200 per month and up, depending on resolution requirements.

What you get: Like the other services in this roundup, 8x8 Virtual Room lets you stream video--up to 15 streams--and share apps, presentations, and desktops. But its main differentiator is its support for Polycom VVX and HDX conferencing equipment, which makes it a full-blown telepresence service without saddling you with the burden of managing your own on-premises back-office systems.

Our take:The $200 starting price for Virtual Room may seem outlandish to people who just want to get online with their PCs' webcams, but it's not aimed at casual users or at businesses that will only occasionally engage in video chats. The service is aimed squarely at midsize companies that want to use high-end telepresence hardware in conjunction with midrange Polycom phones and webcams on a single conference, without making the six-figure infrastructure investment usually required for those capabilities. Of all the services we tried, Virtual Room delivered the smoothest video by far, even from webcam-based users.

Adobe Connect
Adobe Connect videoconferencing service.

Adobe's Flash software remains the leading standard in Web video, so it's not surprising that the company's videoconferencing software, Adobe Connect, is a major contender. The service has been around for about a decade under various names; and though it's not as well known as WebEx and GoToMeeting, it deserves recognition for its excellent interface.

What it costs: $55 per month or $120 annually for one host and 25 attendees per meeting.

What you get: Adobe Connect includes all of the usual conferencing features--whiteboards, presentation sharing, app and desktop sharing, and chat--coupled with excellent video support. In addition to providing unlimited simultaneous webcam video, Connect lets you stream audio and video files from your desktop easily. The service includes mobile apps for iOS, Android, and even the BlackBerry Playbook.

Our take: Adobe Connect primarily targets large enterprises, rather than small businesses, but its in-conference interface is among the simplest in the bunch. The ability to stream video and audio from your desktop to your attendees without great effort is a huge benefit, and we found Connect's video quality to be superb. For smaller companies, this option may be overkill, however, and setting up meetings is slightly more cumbersome than with competing services.

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