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Videoconferencing options at Oxford

For audio and video conferencing there are a range of options from simple low-cost desktop solutions to more sophisticated facilities.

For using teleconferencing at Oxford, consult the Chorus support pages.

The common video-conferencing tools used at Oxford include:

  1. Skype (consumer) - This is often the simplest solution for a one to one call. 
  2. Skype (for Business )
  3. Microsoft Teams ( Office365/Nexus365) - This allows video calls between Oxford staff members. External people can be brought into the meeting by generating a web URL for the call and sending it via email to the external participant.

Full details on these related products and how to configure them is on the Oxford University Nexus365 support pages - Teams or Skype

Tip - It is best to use headphones in video calls so that the microphone on your PC or laptop is not picking up the external user's audio too. Some headsets include a microphone which will improve the general quality of the call. If you are using a speaker for audio then try and keep the volume low and the microphone away from the speaker.

1. Some background

In its most basic form videoconferencing is the transmission of synchronized image (video) and speech (audio) back and forth between two or more physically separate locations, simulating an exchange as if the two (or more) participants were in the same physical conversation.

The first public videoconference was held in April 1930, between AT&T headquarters and their Bell Laboratory in New York City; microphones and loud speakers transferred the audio, while, under a blue light, the images were captured and transmitted as the participants looked into photoelectric cells. This pioneering event emphasised the benefits of face-to-face conversation at a distance.

Any videoconferencing installation must have a few basic components to succeed:

  1. Camera (to capture local video).
  2. Video display (to display remote video)
  3. Microphone (to capture local audio)
  4. Speakers (to play remote audio).

In addition to these more obvious components, a videoconferencing suite generally includes a codec ("COmpressor/DECompressor"), a user interface, a computer system to run on, and a network connection.

Various departments have suitable room based video conference facilities available to use.

2. Types of videoconferencing

Videoconferences can be:

  1. Point to point (directly linking two sites).
  2. Multi-site (three or more sites).

These refer to the number of sites linked by the conference, not to the number of people participating. Multi-point conferences can link all sites equally, or can be a main site linked to remote sites. The type of link used can affect the efficiency and therefore quality of sound and vision.

There are three main types of videoconference:

  1. Desktop PC conferencing, using a software package such as Skype or Microsoft Teams.
  2. Browser based webinar software, such as Zoom, using a commerical cloud based service. These systems work well for webinar events, with large numbers of participants.
  3. Standalone systems with built in camera, designed for room based meetings.

Desktop IP videoconferencing has these advantages:

  • It is cheap. You need any PC or laptop with camera and microphone, and special videoconferencing software.
  • It is accessible: you can videoconference from your own desk, at any time.

The disadvantages are:

  1. Sound is usually acceptable (often best with headphones ) but the picture is often poor quality.
  2. Time needs to be spent setting up the correct settings, particularly the volume of the audio and the mic level.
  3. It does not have many tools to support large groups of people in a webinar scenario.

Examples of IP based conferencing include:

Skype ( PC/Mac)
Skype is a popular package for keeping in touch with international colleagues. (Skype policy at Oxford)

3. Standalone videoconferencing systems

Standalone videoconferencing systems, where the camera and audio are built-in to a small console that sits on a monitor or TV, now use standard IP network connections and offer a high quality, simple to use service. They allow monitors and extra cameras, microphones and PC equipment to be connected and controlled very easily. They are very easy to set-up, reliable, with no specialist knowledge need to use and are controlled via a simple handheld pad.

The advantages are:

Widely available in Higher Education Institutions and Worldwide. ( see http://www.ja.net/services/video/ High quality sound and vision, as built-in electronics cancel any audio echo. Smaller systems can be used as a portable "box" which can be used in any room with an IP connection and TV monitor or video projector. Suitable for meetings with many people due to the high quality video and cameras

The disadvantages are:

Equipment can be expensive, starting around two thousands pounds for a basic system. Often have to travel to a room where the system is based, and it is difficult to share PC material.

In addition, dedicated departmental or institutional videoconferencing suites in HEIs are likely to have some or all of the following:

  1. Visualiser (or document camera): used like an overhead projector, can deal with slides or paper.
  2. VCR connected to conference so that video tapes can be shown.
  3. Monitors: large monitors used to present the main picture to participants, smaller monitors to present other views or line up pre-set shots.

The following Oxford University departments are equipped with room based video-conferencing:

Contact an IT officer in the department for further details.

Manufacturers of standalone hardware conference systems used at Oxford:

4. Key Links

  1. Full details on the Skype and Microsoft Teams related conferencing products used at Oxford University
  2. For using teleconferencing at Oxford, consult the Chorus support pages

Written by IT Services. Latest revision 25 March 2020