Businesses may have started using video conferencing as a way to save their travel budget. Today, however, the concept — and the technology — has evolved to be of higher quality and more affordable. The industry also is generating more excitement in the corporate world, as big-wigs such as Microsoft jump on the bandwagon with start-ups to benefit both consumers and businesses, as well as increase market opportunity. What’s new in video conferencing? Everything, from the technology to the platforms to the players.

New Technologies

In the past, video conferencing meant downloading a program such as Skype, a free communications software that allows users to connect with others through a computer, cell phone or tablet with audio and video. Last month, Microsoft recognized the transformative ability of this earliest video conferencing technology enough to acquire Skype for $8.5 billion. What does this mean for video conferencing participants? According to the official Microsoft press release, the acquisition of Skype will “increase the accessibility of real-time video and voice communications, bringing benefits to both consumers and enterprise users and generating significant new business and revenue opportunities.”

Other tech companies see the benefits of involvement in video conferencing as well — which can only bode well for consumers in terms of new technologies, platforms and pricing structures. This month, AMD, a 42-year-old California-based company that produces computer processing equipment, invested an undisclosed sum in tech start-up ViVu, which has created a simple browser-based video conferencing system, VuRoom. The two tech companies will collaborate on VuRoom, as well as a prototype wireless display technology that enables high-definition video screening from a laptop (powered by AMD) to one or more network-connected devices.

High-end tech; Low cost

As high-end companies acquire and improve start-up video conferencing technologies, telepresence systems are becoming more affordable. Vidyo, a six-year-old video conferencing technology company, recently introduced VidyoPanorama, marketed as a high-resolution video system for up to 20 screens at 10 percent of the cost of comparable telepresence systems. How is this possible? The program’s network uses only the signal needed for each end point device rather than a dedicated high-bandwidth network connection and other equipment, according to the Vidyo website.

Mondopad Portland, Ore.-based InFocus, known for its digital projector products, in July will launch another affordable video conferencing system, the MondoPad. At about $6,000, the product is a 55-inch LCD display “giant tablet computer designed for video conferencing and collaboration,” according to a press release. Equipped with a whiteboard, document viewer and other features such as a front-facing camera for up to 12 participants, the MondoPad, at about $6,000 plus a monthly network fee, requires no additional hardware.

As technology evolves, companies will continue to invest in video conferencing platforms. The international information technology research company Gartner has estimated that by 2012, high-definition-based telepresence solutions will replace 2.1 million airline seats annually, costing the travel and hospitality industry $3.5 billion per year. By 2015, the organization estimates that more than 200 million workers globally will run corporate-supplied video conference equipment from their individual office computers. So what started as a cost-cutting measure has, today, become a worldwide phenomenon that is only bringing more money and technology to the global marketplace.

See also:

Video conferencing cameras: A beginner's guide

Video conferencing solutions for small businesses

Online video conferencing for free