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Hear Me, See Me — Business Quality Video Conferencing At A Reasonable Price

Column: Tricks & Tips

From the Nov. 2006 Issue

Oh, the joys of modern air travel. Many road warriors and even some occasional
business fliers are increasingly despairing at the thought of long airport security
lines, bag searches, shoe and belt removal, and inconsistent policies on personal
care products such as shampoos, creams and gels. Even for those in areas where
rapid rail transport is available, travel is becoming more difficult. Most of
us accept these inconveniences as some of the costs of security, but that doesn’t
mean we don’t wish for a better way.

For many routine client visits that require air travel, or especially those
firms or client businesses with multiple locations, there is an alternative.
Video conferencing has obviously been around for decades, usually inspiring
thoughts of large (and very expensive) conference room video systems. In the
past decade, large businesses have increased their use of these systems as the
technology has become more reliable and the costs have moderated. But these
systems, usually tied directly into the business’ data network for streaming
of the video and audio signals, still start at several thousand dollars, sometimes
reaching $30,000 or more, and require an on-site IT person for troubleshooting.

Faced with these unappealing costs, smaller businesses have traditionally
ignored video conferencing options, or have opted for less appealing technologies.
Let’s face it, $50 to $100 desktop web cams may be fine for talking to
friends or sharing pictures and rough video feeds, but they are not even close
to adequate for business purposes. Thus, these businesses have lost out on the
potential benefits that video conferencing can provide.

There are other options, however, that are geared specifically toward the
professional market, with quality that rivals the high-end systems and a price
tag that is viable for small offices: professional desktop video systems. Polycom
( is
by far the largest developer of video conferencing products, as well as the
largest audio conferencing device manufacturer (everyone’s seen those
triangular boardroom phones). While Polycom still offers a large line of high-end,
high-dollar video systems, the company also makes the ViaVideo II, the second
generation of the company’s desktop video appliance, which costs around

The main component of the ViaVideo is the camera unit, which sits somewhere
on the user’s desktop. The unit is three to four times bigger than a web
cam. But make no mistake, that isn’t the only difference. The system houses
its own processor, so it doesn’t slow down the user’s workstation.
For the user, the video and audio capabilities are instantly appreciated. The
system has full-screen, full-motion video up to 30 frames-per-second. And since
Polycom is an expert at audio technology, too, ViaVideo includes full-duplex
audio that lets people on both sides talk and listen at the same time, with
echo cancellation and noise suppression. The system can contact the other participants
by IP address, ISDN or several other methods, allowing it to act as a videophone,
with up to four parties simultaneously conferencing. Through included software,
ViaVideo II also offers advanced conferencing benefits including simultaneous
video and XGA content sharing and secure calling.

There are a few other comparable systems on the market, including the new
QuickCam Ultra Vision from Logitech ( and a net phone from
Packet8 ( Both of these systems have lower price tags, but
the video and audio quality of the ViaVideo is far better, and only the ViaVideo
includes the built-in processor. Of course, keep in mind that each end of the
conversation needs to have a video system, so if you have two or more offices,
plan on at least one per location, and clients would also need a system.

Business travel will always be a necessity, especially for audits and sales
presentations, but for many accounting professionals and firms, enterprise-quality
video conferencing can reduce the need for travel. The cost is attractive enough
to put one on each of the partners’ desks or in the conference room. Then,
instead of spending your time in a plane, train or automobile, you can be at
the office. And perhaps instead of staying at the airport Hilton, you can sleep
in the comfort of your own bed.

the pages of this magazine, we’ve often extolled the benefits of using
multiple monitors — increased productivity by being able to have full
windows open at the same time showing your tax application, source documents,
review sheets, or research resources. For those who still haven’t done
so because they were worried about having to get a new video card or other tech
issues … well, your excuse is gone. The DualHead2Go from Matrox (
makes creating a multi-monitor system as easy as plugging in a cord. Okay, three
cords. The DualHead2Go graphics expansion module, which can fit in your hand
(or hide under your desk), plugs into your computer (desktop or laptop), and
then the two monitors plug into the device. That’s it. No opening up the
PC box. Another big benefit of this external multi-video module is that you
can easily take it on the road or between office and home. All you have to do
is connect the monitors. The system includes software that automatically manages
window positioning and other tasks. Matrox also makes a triple monitor version
called the TripleHead2Go. The Dual model costs about $169 at major electronics
retailers, while the Triple model is about $299. 

Mr. O’Bannon is the technology editor for The CPA Technology Advisor.
He can be reached at