Decent audio/videoconf gear?

Dear Lazyweb,

given my recent travel woes, with more travel upcoming, I’m starting to consider technology should really come to the rescue. Steve Loughran is pointing me to the wonderful HP Halo stuff, but I don’t quite happen to have $550.000 spare for setting it up plus the required 18K/mo in running costs. Moreover, I really would love to go the extra mile, and move towards some kind of “virtual presence”.

You see, we‘re going to have at least four different offices, plus a number of people working from home, external contractors and the like. What I would really fancy is having a continuous virtual presence, with ambient cameras and audios showing (part of) the offices, plus a dedicated camera for close-up conferences. I feel we’re close to it nowadays: Yahoo, iChat AV and Skype video (argh, I desperately want the Mac version!), plus a number of Open Source solutions are a good start as de-facto standards which won’t require expensive proprietary software, and getting decent video gear isn’t quite costly.

What’s bothering me most is the audio part. I don’t feel comfy wearing headphones, and it kinda surprises me no one has come up with some instructions and a shopping list for some reasonable audio setup which takes into account proper placement of speakerphones and mikes to ensure a good quality conferencing experience, as close as “being there” as possible.

I’ll start with a simple hint: I just discovered that it’s entirely possible to use iChat AV with two cameras. I happen to have an external iSight camera, plus the MBP built in stuff, and today I tried a couple of calls with a few colleagues, who were amazed at how easy it is to switch the video input while online (just keep the video preference pane open, and change the source from there). While the iSight cable is not quite long enough, having a wide angle makes privacy issues less prominent, as it doesn’t seem like people is staring right at your eyes:

External iSight

A wider angle, of course, would be even better and might allow to get an overall view of a room, which would be exactly what we need. The built-in iSight, of course, is just one click away for close-up calls:

Builtin iSight

It seems safe to assume, then, that some kind of external gear setup (say a Mac mini, an LCD screen/projector, and a couple of cameras – possibly proper cameras connected via FireWire) might be able to fulfill at least the basic requirements, but I’m convinced that the key issue is a proper audio setup. If I factor in the money we’re spending in travel, I might easily come up with a good budget, so I’m not scared at fleshing out some cash in order to have a viable and working solution. But, of course, I could use some guidance first, so if you had any experience in setting up proper audio conferencing stuff, I’m all ears.

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2 thoughts on “Decent audio/videoconf gear?”

  1. If I have to spend this much for this, I probably wouldn’t mind traveling. This wouldn’t be feasible for those who are on a tight budget. But isn’t a free conference call service just a phone call away? There are cheaper alternatives available.

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