This report is also available as an Acrobat file.
In this chapter we give a summary of the report findings in brief form so that readers can see easily the main conclusions and recommendations that can be drawn from the study.
The project looked at several issues and posed the following questions:-
The following answers are based on our experiences only and should be read with that in mind.
- Is the performance of current desktop videoconferencing adequate?
- What software can be used on Unix platforms and how do they compare?
- How useful is videoconferencing in supporting Helpdesk/Advisory activities?
- Does videoconferencing bring any benefits for those with hearing difficulties?
Is the performance of current desktop videoconferencing over LANs adequate?
The performance of the video component is generally poor at present and will only improve when adequate carriers are available. However, desktop videoconferencing is not totally dependent on video quality and use of shared whiteboard and shared applications is not so badly affected by network speeds. Audio performance is unreliable if a LAN is used and it is therefore probably advisable to allow for use of separate audio links based on the telephone system.
[ For intra-site conferencing ISDN is currently an expensive option. Also note that Basic rate ISDN (64 Kbit/sec) will never give very good video performance but it may be more appropriate than TCP/IP based conferencing for inter-site (wide area) communications via the desktop.]
What software can be used on Unix platforms and how do they compare?
All major vendors of Unix workstations have products with varying degrees of support for the different components of videoconferencing. The differences between the products are likely to even out in time and the workstations themselves are likely to support audio and video as standard.
Public domain products are very useable but in our experience they are slower and have somewhat poorer performance and supporting documentation. Integration of the different elements is relatively poor and this has implications for the user interface. The items we looked at (which are the most well-known) do not support application sharing. We are not aware of any public domain packages which provide this facility.
How useful is videoconferencing in supporting Helpdesk/Advisory activities?
All the components have great potential in this area provided the performance and user interface issues are overcome.
At the present time it would not be wise to invest greatly in hardware/software but introduction of limited facilities such as shared whiteboard coupled with convenient telephone connections and a camera with variable focus for remote viewing of documents and/or objects would be useful if remote contact is a problem.
Does videoconferencing bring any benefits for those with hearing difficulties?
Although lip reading and/or sign language via video connection is a long way off, we did find that informal gesturing via video helped with communication. The whiteboard can replace conversation to some extent and has the advantage, over a plain textual communication like the Unix talk, that illustrations and, if available, pre-defined icons can be used to abbreviate certain kinds of communication.
The following are suggestions for further work which arose from the present project and which we did not have the time or resource to address.
- Investigate issues relating to widespread use of ISDN in a HE institution.
- Investigate Unix/PC interworking (via H320?)
- Keep track of Multicasting technology developments
- Carry out a full comparative evaluation of products