Tech Theme For The Month – Videoconferencing

Wow – I had a deeply awesome week off the grid.  I really really really needed a break.  I had a magnificent birthday (thanks Amy and everyone who came and hung out), ran for 10 days straight (including Thanksgiving – boy does it feel awesome to be running again), and finally got enough rest to feel normal again (or at least as normal as I ever feel.)

As with most birthdays, I spent a lot of time reflecting on turning 45.  I’ll toss out some posts about this in a bit, but one thing I realized was that I haven’t been going as deep as I’d like on specific technologies recently.  We had a Foundry Group offsite the past two days and discussed the idea of more “nourishment of our inner nerds” and I’ve decided to try something new.

Each month I’ll pick a “tech theme” and explore it deeply.  Some of these will be practical (e.g. stuff I want to implement now) while others will be less so (e.g. stuff I want to learn more about in the context of the investing I’m doing.)

The theme for this month is videoconferencing.  This is one of those technologies that has been a “it will happen next year” thing for a long time (15 years)?  I remember trying CU-SeeMe in 1995 to try to deal with (unsuccessfully) my east coast / west coast travel.  Over the years I’ve bought and tried numerous dedicated video conferencing solutions.  Until recently, it didn’t feel like it was quite there.

Skype was a huge breakthrough for me in the past two years.  I’ve used it regularly and have found it incredibly effective for one on one video conferencing.  But I need something more robust for “board level” video conferencing, especially multiperson.

It feels like all the pieces are finally here.  So – I’m going to figure it out and put some money against it as part of my December 2010 tech theme.

If you have suggestions, experiences, or configurations that work for you, I’m all ears (and eyes).

  • Barry

    Brad, the best tool for team online meetings that I’ve seen is Sococo – They don’t yet do face-time, but as far as screen sharing, they are superior to Skype. A lot of people are requesting that they add video, and I’d be pretty surprised if it’s not on their road map.

    I kinda like the way Webex shows the small video panel of the participants, but I wish it showed that alongside the screen being shared.

  • While it may be overkill for you – I’d highly recommend figuring out a way to get into a Cisco Telepresence session. It’s awesome….simply awesome. There are a number of providers that are looking at rolling it out “as a service” – some hotels, executive office providers, etc. You’ll be able to rent their rooms by the hour. I’d be watching this closely if I was an airline!

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if Skype + Xbox + Kinect would provide a good video conference mashup platform. It’d be nice to have the video screen (a good and large HD TV) pan to the person or place you’re looking at as well as provide the ability to use hand getsures to draw/write on a shared transparent virtual board. I have no idea if that’s possible with Kinect, but the ability to communicate via video in the same way that I would in person would be a compelling feature set for me.

  • Coreysterner

    Wrt Cisco telepresence…you can schedule a demo at their offices in the DTC. Price tag keeps it squarely in the upper echelon of enterprise users for now.

  • Johnmay0823

    Brad – Cisco Telepresence was the first group at Cisco to use Rally and were the launchpad for everything else. Great group of people and incredible technology. I was not sure where Cisco was goign a couple of years ago when they bought flip video cameras. It was for making things snap together, install and use with about one click. They are trying to own this market by buying Tandberg last year. If they apply the ease of use theme to it and bring it into the home as they are trying, it could get to be mainstream quickly. Lots of competition with Skype (Saw it a lot at eBay) but it is amazing. Cisco has a facility in Boulder out by the jail. See if Rally can get you a time slot on it or just to demo it. If you need contacts in San Jose, let me know. It is worth a 30 minute visit.

  • Matthew Garland

    Brad you should speak with Bob Dinegar at RJ Macklin Associates, He has worked in this space for quite sometime and has some really great solutions. He is also just a great man.

  • Brad, Talk to Vidtel ( They do all of the things you want and Scott Wharton the Founder is really a pioneer in the space. His email is scott(at)vidtel(dot)com.

  • jzeisler

    you should check out Software based HD video conferencing using SVC H.264. HP is selling it for their telepresence alternative to Cisco. Runs from mobile device to desktop to conference room. BTW, Google licenses the technology for their SD video chat.

    • Glenn

      yeah, and it’s proprietary just like skype, only with way less users. good luck with any non-interoperable product that has <1% market share

  • Admarlin

    Brad – you should talk to my team who sells, services, and operates end-to-end Telepresence (for Cisco/Tandberg) from the desktop to the boardroom to immersive experience across different form factors and affordable for any user small to large. All standards based and interoperable with your unified communications environment – lots of interesting synergies from the CIUS tablet to home telepresence (UMI). Please reach out to me @ +1 212 692-6505

    • Thanks for the offer – will reach out.

  • Paul

    Videoconferencing is all about the audio. Get the best audio system you can without going through a custom install for a room. Lifesize high-end system with the improved audio – audio is amazing clarity and sensitivity. Also both ends will need a decent pipe with hopefully a dedicated portion for video.

  • I wish that my startup, Alanta, were a little bit further along, but we’re attempting to do largely what you describe. We’re the first and only entirely browser-based web conferencing platform that has acoustic echo cancellation. We’re likely gonna be beta for a while, but we’re aiming for a soft launch in a week or so. In the meantime, if you’re willing to put up with a few stability issues, you can check us out at

    Our next step is to wrap the technology we’ve developed with some JavaScript APIs, and make it available for organizations that want to embed web conferencing services into their own websites.

  • I’m a Software Engineer and have worked for one of your investments in the past. 🙂 I did a stint not long ago in telecom working at BT (British Telecom) in their videoconferencing division before joining yet another startup. I worked-on a SaaS platform which basically automates all of the complexity of systems such as Cisco Telepresence, LifeSize, Tandberg, etc, so I have hands-on experience with all of the high-end hardware and their API’s, as well as what they are like as we had demo rooms for all of the HD video solutions.

    Cisco Telepresence is the best of breed, but I don’t even have an idea of what the price tag is for a Telepresence setup. LifeSize stuff was really nice and they were great to work with– hopefully they do well under Logitech. It seemed that we only really catered to high-end clients like Fortune 500 enterprises, but I can’t say for sure. The place was big enough that I knew nothing about the sales process… too big for me, hence me moving on.

    The biggest problem with video conferencing other than cost? Interoperability. There is really not a standard between the various pieces of equipment as the HD market is not yet mature. Whatever system you end-up going with, you have to make sure that everyone is on board with it that you plan on doing conferences with because it’s not going to operate with another brand of equipment without an intermediate partner to handle the mess in between the different systems which I’m not sure really exists yet.

    You’re going to need someone to actually manage the stuff for you or provide a software platform which can handle scheduling, connecting the units to each other, etc. Otherwise you’re on your own to handle a lot of “network switching” problems.

    I’m not a good reference for cost, but I do know quite a bit about the various pieces of hardware (I mostly did a lot of Cisco Telepresence work as well as some work with Polycom and LifeSize). If you have any questions about the various systems, I might be able to help from existing experience.. if not look at spec sheets and give you a comparison, etc.

  • Ive been curious about the Cisco Umi setup – its $600 per box and a $20/month charge. We recently tried Skype 5.0 (with multiple video streams) but it was kinda bust. I tried to convince MSFT to give us one of their super duper video conferencing thingies. It has voice tracking and is super solid.

    My friends at Aviary took a tokbox install, and put it on one of their servers (kinda a hack) but it works really well and is dirt cheap (takes a bit of hacking). If I figure out something cool, will let you know.

  • Srudolph

    Another vote for Vidyo, Brad. Not ideal for everyone, but they can give you a very good multipoint experience that does not require every participant to have a high cost setup.

  • Have used Acrobat Connect – very simple to use and experience is pretty good. Well worth checking out

  • Hi Brad,

    My company, Vidtel, was formed to solve the problem you described above: “board level video conferencing more robust than PC-based solutions like Skype including multiparty, but with a price tag affordable for the SME. And interoperable with what others have.

    We allow you to pick any standards-based business grade video device e.g., Tandberg, Polycom, Lifesize etc. without having to purchase and manage all of the infrastructure to run it that big companies buy. And we allow you to integrate these with the consumer-oriented services like Skype, Google and others.

    I agree with Jamie Siminoff below – we could really be a good fit for you and would love to discuss how we might help (maybe I could get my Do More Faster book autographed in return 🙂 ?

    • Happy to autograph the book anytime if we can get in the same physical
      space. I’ll reach out separately on this.

  • Wayne Cluff

    are you tracking ? Tell amy mandy and I both say hi!

  • George Jankovic


    Skype has a beta version that does video conferencing with multiple parties. Haven’t tried it yet, but plan to.


    • I’ve tried it – it’s “ok” not great.

  • Holger Forrest

    Brad, good to read your views. I tried to meet with you a number of months ago and had to cancel as I had a car acciedent (all is ok). Hvaing been in the rouet optimization sapce (BGP), then CDN space (stremaing video) and not the Videoconferencing space (Cisco/Tandberg, Polycom & Lifesize) I too think, with the troubles we have economically – what with the Italian now saying they “don’t have money”, videoconferencing is seeing a tremendous uptick. If you have some time, would love to have you experince, a true “telepresence” call. Holger Forrest

  • Michael

    Hm. This might be a more mid-range option from GoToMeeting that they just a launched.

  • Michael

    Hm. This might be a more mid-range option from GoToMeeting that they just a launched.

  • Wayne Cluff

    This is a message from Sam Cluff, Son of Wayne Cluff about this topic:

    I am Sam Cluff, 14. please forgive grammar, but my dad thought you would appreciate my viewpoint on video conferencing. is an amazing way to connect with other people, you can go up to a 6 way video call! It is free to do 1on 1 but you can have as many people as you want if the host is paying. The way you can host a 6 way is if you pay a small fee every month, you can also do chats and video messages, this is an amazing work of art and should be known to to the world. The technoligy is about 10x as advanced as skype, and i use it almost everyday and sometimes up to twenty times in 1 day.

    -Sam Cluff

    ps: Brad, when you are ready to get the real end users on your team give wayne a call (though he is just a middle-man)

    • Sam – awesome – great to hear from you. I remember when ahem you were born…

      I’ll take a look at

  • Birnbach

    I know I’m late to the discussion, but my client Avistar develops business-class videoconferencing for laptops and PC that’s multiparty, high def videoconference calls. Additionally, Avistar is secure (which is important for companies), and can interoperate with room systems from other companies, like Cisco. Avistar is available at a price point that works for SMBs, can scale up to large enterprises, and has been integrated into IBM SameTime 8.5.

    • Thanks for the info. I think we’ve figured out what we are doing at
      this point but I’ll take a look.