3 Types of Video Conferencing Systems for Small Businesses

The Blueprint explains the three types of video conferencing solutions to help small businesses make the right system choice.

Updated June 25, 2020

When searching for a video conferencing solution, you’re likely to come across the same products over and over again: Zoom, Skype, and Webex are the most popular tools on the market.

However, most of these video conferencing platforms are cloud-based. Cloud-based solutions are great in terms of flexibility and cost, but you might be looking for a more comprehensive setup that involves hardware or physical video conferencing equipment.

We’ll go through three types of video conferencing solutions to help you make the right system choice for your business.

The 3 types of video conferencing systems:

  • Soft codec
  • Hard codec
  • Telepresence

The 3 types of video conferencing systems

Cloud-based video conferencing systems aren’t the only option for businesses looking for a solution to help them run conference meetings, remotely manage teams, connect with customers, and foster team collaboration.

Type 1: Soft codec systems

Soft codec systems are more commonly known as cloud or web-based video conferencing software. They’re “soft” as they don’t need hardware or equipment to work, and “codec” refers to devices or programs that compress and decompress data.

These software solutions, such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, and Google Meet require only an internet connection and a camera-enabled device such as a laptop, desktop, smartphone, or tablet.

Zoom’s Webinars feature

Zoom’s Webinars feature allows up to 10,000 view-only attendees.

Perhaps the biggest misconception about soft codec video conferencing solutions is that they don’t support a large amount of meeting participants. On the contrary, the most robust tools can support anywhere from 10 to 1,000 meeting participants (and even more when users purchase an enterprise plan).

Zoom also offers a premium “Webinar” feature that allows organizations to set up webinars, live virtual events, and video conferences for up to 10,000 attendees.

Benefits of soft codec systems:

  • Good for businesses on a budget: Soft codec systems are great options for businesses that don’t have a lot of money to spend on a video conferencing solution. Many soft codec systems even offer free video conferencing tools and features.
  • Ease of use: Using soft codecs is as simple as downloading the software to your device. There’s not much of a learning curve when using these products for the first few times.

Disadvantages of soft codec systems:

  • Security concerns: We’ve all heard of “Zoombombing” which had video conferencing vendors scrambling to make their security certifications known. While many platforms offer end-to-end encryption, others rely on the less secure TLS (Transport Layer Security) protocol.
  • Costs can increase quickly: $15/month per user for a video conferencing platform sounds like a bargain, but when you consider how many employees will need to use the software as well as extra feature add-ons, the total cost can quickly rise exponentially.

Type 2: Hard codec systems

Hard codec solutions require physical equipment to be installed on-site (plus an external display, TV, camera, and microphone) as the systems are hardwired and function via back-end servers. Because of this, they don’t require or rely on an internet connection in order to hold video conferences.

Hard codec video conferencing system

Hard codec video conferencing systems require equipment installation. Source: Lifesize.

Hard codecs are similar to the video conferencing setups one sees in movies — picture a corporate boardroom with large monitors, microphones, and speakers.

This type of system is well-suited for organizations that need fixed meeting rooms dedicated to conference audio and video calls and don’t want to rely on an internet connection.

Benefits of hard codec systems:

  • Hard codec systems are reliable: They don’t rely on an internet connection to make video calls, so there’s unlikely to be any disruption due to bandwidth bottlenecks or connectivity issues.
  • Call quality is often higher: The hardware is dedicated to making video calls, unlike the devices software is run on, which are also running hundreds of other applications. Hard codec systems typically have more processing power, better screen resolutions, and more bandwidth.

Disadvantages of hard codec systems:

  • Systems are very pricey: The biggest drawback of hard codec systems is their cost. There are large installation, equipment, and setup costs that usually put these systems out of reach for smaller businesses.
  • Restrictions on system compatibility: Hard codec systems typically don't play as nice with other systems, unlike software.

Type 3: Telepresence

Telepresence systems emulate the appearance of physical meeting rooms via screens, giving meeting participants the appearance of being present in the same room and having a face-to-face interaction.

The appearance of board rooms, chairs, lighting, etc., all match, giving the illusion that everyone is in the same room.

Telepresence systems often hide the equipment needed to make video calls — such as cameras, speakers, and microphones — to provide a more immersive video conference experience. Meeting participants look life-size, and voices sound as they would if all meeting participants were in the same room.

Benefits of telepresence systems:

  • Provides an immersive meeting experience: Telepresence systems offer realistic “face-to-face” interactions between meeting participants with life-size and high-definition images and audio, fostering high levels of engagement.
  • High-quality calls: Telepresence systems provide clear, echo-free audio, which provides directional cues regarding who is speaking.

Disadvantages of telepresence systems:

  • System compatibility: Many telepresence systems aren’t compatible with their competitors’ systems, which limits who you can invite to meetings.
  • Telepresence systems are expensive: Significant installation, equipment, and setup costs often exclude small businesses from accessing this type of video conferencing system.

Next steps in choosing a video conferencing solution that’s right for your business

Hard codec and telepresence systems sit on the more expensive side of the scale, while soft codec systems (or cloud-based software) usually have more accessible price points. However, cost isn’t everything, and you should evaluate a range of other factors when it comes to choosing a video conferencing system.

For example, take into account what features you absolutely need, how many employees will use the system, how often you video chat with external clients or companies, and whether you want to rely on an internet connection to power your video conferencing solution.

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