Last month I spent a few hours investigating the state of desktop and mobile video. Remember the quote from Nik Kershaw, “Look behind you there’s the man you’re chasing”. I was looking behind me to see if mobile and desktop video were catching up to Telepresence/TeleCollaboration.
I looked at what I felt were the three top contenders, zoom.us, ooVoo and Skype. In each case I used my Wireshark packet sniffer to try to determine what was going on. I was particularly interested in the protocols being used as well as the bandwidth being consumed.
Zoom.us have an interesting product. They use STUN and TLS to setup calls to a cloud based server, which means that port 443 must be open for outbound traffic. I made a call between two PC’s equipped with 720P cameras and measured a media stream of 1.5Mbps in one direction and 950K in the other. This is about average given the camera resolutions and the use of standard CODECs.
Zoom’s offering can handle up to a fifteen party call with active speaker or filmstrip selection. Zoom has clients for the Mac, PC/Windows, iPhone and iPad but not Android. The clients support screen sharing at the application level, which was quite nice. I tested the client on a 3G connected iPhone4 and the video was lower quality but still usable.
I did notice that the client uses multicast on a three party call and that the media between devices on the same LAN stayed on the LAN. The client was easy to use, free and integrated with facebook, Google or my local address book. It provided a mechanism for meeting invites with options for sms, email or IM notification.
The client has a built in echo canceller and works with any PC peripheral for sound. Chat is part of the basic client, but the lack of inter-op with traditional video conferencing leaves this offering out of the business market place. It was not obvious how Zoom is planning to make money, as everything was free.
My second target ooVoo, has been around for quite a while providing clients for the Mac, Pc/Windows, iPhone, iPad and Android. Resolution on the clients was not as good as Zoom, but it was still usable. A call between two PC’s on my local LAN used about 300Kbps. Wireshark caught some HTTP packets before the TLS connection was established outbound to a cloud-based server.
One big difference between ooVoo and Zoom is that all ooVoo media goes to the cloud even if the devices are on the same local LAN. This means the system will use WAN bandwidth even for local calls. This is commonly referred to as a spoke and hub architecture.
Screen sharing is a premium feature and users must register with ooVoo to get an account before the client will work. Users can buy credits if they want to make audio calls, but that was the full extent of their inter-op. I could not figure out how to make a call to a traditional video conferencing system and suspect that it is not supported. ooVoo is a walled community where you can only call other ooVoo users.
The client did recognize that I had a local address book and asked if I wanted to use it to find other ooVoo users. It checked my facebook, gmail and local email and told me that it had found forty four ooVoo users. When I checked the users however, it had really only found a couple. The rest of the users must have come from their site because they were people I didn’t know.
The built in echo canceller worked will with all the PC peripherals I tried and the video voice mail was a really nice feature. Without inter-op I would have to say that this offering is also not for the business space. ooVoo did have premium features that represented a revenue stream.
The last name on my list was Skype. Skype has been around for quite a while and it’s one of those products that has made the jump from a noun to verb. People talk about skyping each other. We’ve all used Skype to talk to our kids at university or our parents and relatives. Skype has the power of Microsoft behind it so people seem to be less concerned about its proprietary nature.
It’s unclear what Microsoft intends to do with Skype and their developers kit leaves some of the key features out of reach. Integrators are not permitted to have multiparty calls for example.
Skype is a closed environment where users must have a Skype account and can only call other users who accept an invitation to connect. Inter-op is possible by integrating Skype support into traditional video conferencing products, but only Magor has announced and delivered an integration.
Skype running on a laptop with a Microsoft 1080P camera does produce a very decent high resolution video image.
Wireshark had a bit more trouble with Skype as it’s call setup and media protocols are proprietary. I made a call between two PCs on the same LAN and the packets that were exchanged remained on the local LAN. Media also flowed directly between the two devices. This would tend to indicate that the Skype server is only queried for the call destination address.
The media was symmetrical which means that devices traversing a firewall would receive media back on the same port they would be transmitting media out on. The measured media between the two PCs was 3Mbps in one direction and 4Mbps in the other. This lines up with recommendations for Skype that I had found on several web sites.
Skype over the Internet does not handle packet loss very well. Lost packets usually result in video and audio artifacts.
Skype did integrate with my address book and also provided a mechanism for meeting notification. Meeting invites can be sent using SMS, IM and email.
Skype allows users to share screens and has a built in chat area that maintains a history. This is a nice way to review previous conversations.
Skype is perhaps in the best position to be a competitor in the business space and is used for business meetings in many parts of the world. The lack of inter-op with traditional video conferencing means users have to switch devices, but everyone has Skype on one of their devices. Skype clients are available for the Mac, Pc/Windows, Linux, iPhone, iPad and Android.
I would have to say in closing that none of these technologies are in a position to replace Telepresence, but we need to keep looking over our shoulder.