Visual Communication for the Star Trek generation

For most of us growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, Star Trek and Captain Kirk set the stage for visual communications. Now that I am a bit older I find myself wondering how all those aliens managed to get their video systems to inter-operate. Captain Kirk would just say “Open a channel” and video would magically appear on the bridge monitor.  Lip sync always worked (When the aliens had lips) and latency was always less than a few milliseconds even though the distance was measured in light years.

Scotty was never brought in to sort out inter-op problems. I can hear him saying “It’ll never work captain they’re using MPEG2 and we use MPEG4” or “They’re using H.323 and we only speak SIP”. I was recently at a customer site in Texas where an older Tandberg device was negotiating ALAW and sending ULAW for the audio. Now that I think about it, the result was close to something like Klingon. Audio CODECs on the Enterprise always worked and even translated to English.

Needless to say, we have a ways to go before we can hope to have visual communication with aliens. At the moment we can’t seem to inter-op with other humans. That said, some of the smaller vendors have religiously attended SipIT conferences and worked hard to develop products that work with an amazing list of vendors.

If you want to have a good inter-op story, SipIT is the conference you want to attend. You can bring your latest version and you don’t have to worry about bad press. It’s a geek fest with strict rules about information not leaving the building. You get a dance card and book inter-op appointments before you even get to the conference. It’s usually an action packed couple of days that results in an open transfer of information. SuperOp is something similar but more focused on H.323.

Having a good inter-op story will be key to leveraging your installed base of legacy video conferencing gear. Leveraging that gear will increase its ROI and make you popular with senior management. When your vendor asks you about B2B video, tell them that you make regular calls to the Romulan Empire and it’s important that the system just works. Romulans are a crusty lot that lack a sense of humor. The last thing that you want to do is piss them off because you couldn’t get your video to work.

If you want to test your system prior to calling the Romulans, call me at If you can see and hear me then you’re probably good to go when the Romulans arrive.

QISmaS DatIvjaj ‘ej DIS chu’ DatIvjaj  (Klingon)

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