Video Conferencing Software

One benefit of using video conferencing software is that it reduces travel expenses, especially when the participants are in distant geographical locations from one another. The cost of airfare, car rental, lodging expenses, and meal allowances for multiple participants will far outweigh even the initial costs of the purchase and installation of computer applications that will allow the participants to stay in their own offices and engage in a video and audio meeting over the internet. For some groups, such as family members who don't live close to each other, the cost for such video/audio chats can be practically zero. They can take advantage of one of the many free video conference software programs that are available from a variety of online vendors. However, potential buyers need to keep in mind the old saying, "You get what you pay for." This holds as true in the case of free video conference software programs as it does in so many other areas. The free program may have limited features, especially compared with video conferencing software that is marketed to businesses and large nonprofit organizations. For example, the freebie program may only allow two people to meet with each other rather than several individuals. Some programs offer additional features such as video email options. The free program may allow only a limited number of these emails to be sent or received and the length may be restricted to just a few seconds. The same vendor may offer a similar application with additional features and benefits. By paying a monthly fee, an individual may be able to send and receive a higher number of video emails with a longer duration, perhaps of a few minutes.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of a video conference is seeing the participants' facial expressions. Though communication is often thought of in terms of verbal interchanges and tones of voices, people also pick up cues from a speaker's facial expression. Imagine how it must have been for Moses and the descendants of Israel: "And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them. . . . The LORD talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire, (I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to shew you the word of the LORD: for ye were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up into the mount;) saying, I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage" (Deuteronomy 5:1, 4-6). Then Moses communicated to his listeners the message from God -- what are now popularly known as the Ten Commandments.

A business or large nonprofit organization who wants to cut travel expenses by utilizing video conferencing software should appoint an individual or team to research the available options. The research team will want to begin by determining exactly what application features are most needed by management and conference participants. Many vendors promote programs that allow the participants to share applications or to upload, view, and make changes to documents. Another popular feature allows one individual to take remote control of a colleague's computer. Any particular application may have a limit on the number of people who can be seen on a monitor, but does this limit the number of people who can participate in the conference? Will those who are not part of the video still be able part of the audio? For larger companies that need to bring together many participants, these are important questions to consider.

The team will also need to consider the hardware and installation aspects of the various options. Which will best serve the company's needs: microphones and headsets or a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system? What system requirements does each software program require and will the company need to upgrade the computer network to meet those requirements? Some companies boast that their products work with any bandwidth. The claim may be true, but the research team should keep in mind that the bandwidth could affect quality. Just because the software works doesn't mean that it works effectively. One complaint, especially with free video conference software, is the time lapse in the audio. This can cause an echo or just an annoying experience of watching someone's mouth move out of sync with the words being said. There are video conferencing software program vendors that promote products that do not require special equipment or any installations to be made to the customer's computer network. This may sound like a money-saving feature. But here again, the research team will need to see if these programs provide the needed level of quality for the company's conferencing needs. It may be better to spend more money upfront on hardware upgrades to ensure a quality program that meets a company's expanding needs.

Many vendors provide a free trial period or an online demonstration of the promoted products. Once several top-ranked choices are selected, the research team should take advantage of these promotions to get a hands-on experience of how the conferencing software works. This is also a good time to contact the vendor's customer service department. A lot can be learned about how a vendor treats its clients with a simple phone call to the listed toll-free number. How long did it take for the call to be answered? How friendly was the person on the other end of the line? Were questions answered in a professional and efficient manner? All these aspects may be important in the future so it is a good idea to get a sense of a prospective vendor's view of its customers ahead of time. Video software programs are an innovative means for businesses and organizations to save on travel expenses. Families and other small groups can use free video conference software programs to have face-to-face chats without incurring any expenses at all, except perhaps for any needed hardware, such as microphones and headsets, or an upgrade to an adequate computer system to handle the program's requirements.

Video Surveillance Software

Businesses and private individuals purchase video surveillance software and hardware to monitor specific places and record whatever activities may take place in those monitored places. The recording devices are not necessarily hidden or secret. In fact, it is usually illegal to video people with hidden cameras. But for security reasons, cameras are often placed in ceiling corners of such businesses as financial institutions, jewelry stores, hotel corridors, and parking garages. The video may run on a loop that erases the tape as new recordings are made and the views from the cameras may or may not be monitored on computer screens in a security office. Advanced technology also allows companies and individuals to purchase video security software that can be secretly installed onto a computer's central processing unit (CPU) or an entire computer network.

Though security may be the primary reason for using video surveillance software, other industries also make use of the technology. One common example is in monitoring traffic conditions. Some technologies support the use of multiple cameras that can record and broadcast at the same time. With properly situated cameras, usually under the auspices of a governmental transportation department, the news media can monitor heavily traveled roads for accidents and other delays. This information can then be passed along to commuters in radio broadcasts during the morning and afternoon prime drive-time periods. Often the software includes features that allow text captions to be added and images, such as a television station's logo, to be overlaid onto the broadcast. Date and time stamps are also added to the recording.

Webcams are usually thought of as small cameras that sit on top of a computer monitor so that two Internet users in two separate locations can see each other on their monitors. But a webcam can also be any digital camera that streams video to a server. One innovative use of this technology is the placement of a camera in a difficult to access place such as an eagle's aerie. Naturalists can then monitor the activities of hatching eaglets and learn more about how the parents care for them without disturbing the birds with their presence. These types of sites are often promoted to the general public. By going to the appropriate website, Internet users also can watch the activities going on in the nest. An early Old Testament writer writes that God once said to Job: "Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high? She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place. From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off." (Job 39:27-29) How cool is it that today's technology brings these high places to a person's computer screen? Other events, public ones such as sporting events and private ones such as weddings, can also be recorded and broadcasted with the use of video surveillance software. By knowing the correct website, Internet viewers can watch broadcasted events as they occur.

In contrast to the monitoring of public places and hard-to-reach areas where the public may not be welcomed, some businesses and individuals use hidden video security software for private reasons. Companies are seldom allowed to set up hidden cameras to monitor employees' activities. However, software can be installed on a CPU or network that monitors employees' use of company computers. Almost all software of this type will record every keystroke and every mouse click made by the employee. This includes instant messages (IMs) and chats which are often thought of as disappearing once the application is closed. The program will also keep a log of the applications that are used and the websites that are visited by the employee. Some programs will include additional features. For example, the software may take snapshots at regular intervals of what appears on the computer screen. Another interesting feature allows the employer to set up alerts if an employee uses certain key phrases. If the employee uses a trigger phrase in an email, an instant message (IM), or chat environment, the software is designed to log the usage and/or send an instant alert to the appropriate manager via an email or a file transfer protocol (FTP). Managers usually have the capability to access the logs from a remote location, perhaps another computer or even a personal digital assistant (PDA) or cell phone. This type of video security software is virtually impossible for the employee to either detect or remove.

Individuals may purchase video surveillance software to provide home security, to check in on a nanny caring for one's children, or to monitor a home-alone pet. Some programs include a motion detection feature that activates the recording mechanism. This may also send an email or an alert to a designated device (such as a PDA) or to set off an audible alarm. With tag inserting capabilities, certain images on the recording can be tagged. This makes it easier to search the videos for specific images. Another advantage of video security software is that it can be uploaded to a server or network for later access. A videotape can be removed from a camera, but the uploaded videos can't be stolen. The recorded files are protected and can usually be accessed only by the administrator who knows the password. The use of video surveillance software can provide important information and protection to the public, company managers, and private individuals.

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