A little while back, consultant Dave Michels of TalkingPointz wrote a post on No Jitter that summarized some recent announcements from video vendors, and concluded his roundup with this observation: “The video industry has conquered the mechanics of audio and video and is now focusing on engagement.” I couldn’t agree more… and yet….
Here’s what I agree with: When I talk to video vendors, I rarely hear the words “codec,” “bit rate,” “compression algorithm,” or any of those technical terms that used to be the competitive differentiators wielded by the Polycoms and Tandbergs and Vidyos of the world back in the day. Now the differentiators are ease of use, integration with UC clients or other applications, active-speaker camera panning, and the like. As Dave says, it’s about engagement, making systems that ordinary people can use without any prior training, and that can run the same way on whatever device the user has chosen for a given meeting.
And in fact, the video industry may even have “conquered the mechanics of audio and video.” Most video calls I participate in provide “good enough” quality, as far as I’m concerned. And that’s really all that matters on a given call: If people think the call quality is good enough, then it is. I’ve heard of attempts to standardize “video MOS” (mean opinion score) concepts, but I don’t think most users are engaged enough to police their own call quality. Here’s an example: I recently had a softphone conversation where the call quality was pretty bad. When it was over, I did what my reflexes have taught me to do when the “Rate your call quality” screen came up: I killed the screen. It’s become a habit, one that prevails even when, if I’d thought about it, I should have taken a couple of seconds to let someone know about the inadequate quality on this particular call.
But here’s the bigger problem: I had a poor-quality audio call on a softphone. Surely UC vendors have “conquered the mechanics of audio”—they’ve had 20 years, I’d hope they have. But you can still have poor quality, because your communications software—the client and the system it participates in—only represents one element. There’s the local network, the Internet, all that other junk in between. So while most of my calls, video and audio, have been fine, I can count on some of them being noticeably subpar.
We have to recognize the progress the video industry has made in audio and video technology. And definitely the user experience for starting a video conference was in desperate need of attention for years. But it’d be a bad idea for the video industry to completely shift focus away from technology. Video vendors are at the mercy of network congestion and other factors beyond their control, but they also have, for years, worked to make their systems better at adapting to lousy network quality. If that doesn’t remain an area of focus, we’ll still find ourselves having more frustrating video meetings, and then nobody will care how easy it is to join.