Online Video Collaboration Tools: A Buyer's Guide

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Collaborative computing is a term that’s been tossed about for decades, starting with Windows for Workgroups 3.1 back in 1992. In that 2-decade span, the term has gone through a variety of meanings as enterprise customers seek ways to leverage the computing power available to most employees.

The lure of collaborative software and hardware is tantalizing: It allows participants in far-flung reaches of the globe to remotely work together almost as well as if they were sitting around the same conference table, editing suite, or boardroom.

Videoconferencing has been around a bit longer than the term collaborative computing, but it has recently become a subset of collaborative computing with its ability for desktop and application sharing growing in importance. This shift is partially due to the lower cost of desktop video chat, through Skype or other instant messaging programs, and also partially due to the rise of WebEx and other desktop-sharing tools that also now include robust multiparty video chat.

With that context in mind, let’s look at several different types of video-centric collaboration tools and highlight the similarities and differences between the options.

Accordent Capture Station, Presenter Pro, and Media Management System

Accordent Technologies, Inc.’s history is based on rich-media capture. Along the way, its Capture Station and PresenterPRO products have gained the ability to capture live content that synchronizes PowerPoint, webpages, and live video streams, pushing its toolset toward video collaboration. Beyond just the live streaming capabilities, the company has polling, chat, and other real-time feedback loops to help delivery to a diverse audience within the enterprise.

In recent years, it’s branched into video asset management tools to complement the growing amount of enterprise video content. Accordent’s Media Management System has commenting, versioning, and other tools that allow the conversation to continue around the archival content.

With a focus on enterprise, it’s not surprising that Accordent’s enterprise video management strategy leverages a Microsoft infrastructure, from leveraging SharePoint and Lync (formerly OCS) to SQL server, Windows Media Services, and Silverlight. Accordent’s applications, according to the company, are built 100% on Microsoft technologies. This is a fact certain to make the enterprise IT team take notice, as Accordent’s dashboard provides access to governance, user authentication, content expiration, and network delivery controls. (Just as we were going to press, Accordent was acquired by Polycom.)

Adobe Story and OnLocation

Adobe Systems, Inc. is best known for its Acrobat (PDF) software as well as its Creative Suite bundle of Photoshop, Premiere, and other print- and video-centric tools. With the launch of Creative Suite 5 (CS5) the company is also pushing forward with a collaborative tool called Adobe Story that helps creative and enterprise customers jointly create a video script.

Numerous collaborative writing tools are available on the market, from Google Docs and Zoho Creator to the more recent online versions of Microsoft Office. Adobe Story is the only one, however, that’s geared toward taking the most difficult part of a video production—the script—and leveraging the power of collaboration to drive the project forward.

Story is part of CS Live, which was available at no charge at the time of this writing, although that may change in the future. Much like Google Docs, a single user can provide access to other users, assigning roles and editing/viewing privileges for any number of scripts or script versions.

Adobe Story performs the typical tasks of scriptwriting (“linking characters, locations, scene descriptions, and dialogue to production and post-production workflows”), but it adds an extra feature when used with the OnLocation CS5 production tool.

Metadata from a script, such as the locations and scene descriptions, are added as placeholders in an OnLocation project, creating a ready-made shot list that eliminates a number of the hassles and basic errors faced when moving from the written page to the high-intensity production location. When used in combination with tapeless cameras (including camcorders and DSLRs), the movement from collaboration in the script process to collaboration in the editing room is streamlined.

Brainshark

Brainshark has been around for almost a decade, starting as a more presentation-centric alternative to WebEx. Brainshark presentations could be prerecorded and a link could be sent to potential viewers, with Brainshark tracking overall and partial views. One of its early benefits was the ability to edit a recorded presentation: Rather than rerecording the entire presentation if a single slide changed, the presenter could change out the slide and then just record the portion of audio that went along with it. That was rather revolutionary for its time.

Fast-forward to 2011, and we see Brainshark engaging its customers on their device of choice: the iPad. Since Brainshark gears its offerings toward large, distributed field sales forces “who need to show or explain complicated products to customers and prospects,” the iPad is a key tablet product to support.

One of the major issues with the iPad, however, is that it doesn’t handle animations and other PowerPoint presentation basics, so the company devised a way to upload a PowerPoint presentation to Brainshark, where it is converted into a video presentation that’s iPad compliant, complete with animations. The iPad version of Brainshark also comes with a personal viewing history icon that displays a list of previously viewed Brainshark content. If a salesperson shows several presentations a day, this personal viewing list will be quite welcome, as it eliminates the need to scroll back through email invitations to find a specific invitation.

Why not just store the video presentations on the iPad? This is where Brainshark’s collaborative aspect comes into play. Putting content on a device such as the iPad is beneficial for those who may not be connected to the corporate network at all times, but it defeats the ability to manage changes in key sales documents or custom presentations.

If the company needs to change up a single slide, or even several slides, for a remote salesperson—or the entire sales team—the changes can be done collaboratively between the sales team, the sales manager, and the person making the changes. Think of it as just-in-time customized presentations for a client, with the rapid customization being part video, part audio, and part text. Whenever the remote salesperson is ready to present, he or she uses his or her company’s Brainshark account portal to access enterprise-created content that’s guaranteed to be the most up-to-date version available.

HP Visual Collaboration (formerly SkyRoom)

When HP launched SkyRoom 2 years ago, it was one of the few visual collaboration tools geared specifically toward addressing the collaborative needs of engineers and entertainers. 

At first glance, SkyRoom looked just like any other desktop-sharing and videoconferencing mashup, since it provided a face-to-face online meeting in small video windows positioned around the larger shared application window. HP worked to bring the video collaboration engine down to sub-100-millisecond latency, a feat normally reserved for dedicated hardware videoconferencing solutions.

The key to HP’s SkyRoom, which is now expanding to all of HP’s Visual Collaboration products since sales of the stand-alone SkyRoom software will be discontinued in late April 2011, is an HP media engine geared toward 3D and CAD playback.
HP designed these media engines to work in conjunction with the video collaboration, allowing 3D playback at a minimum of 15 frames per second, if the enterprise network had sufficient bandwidth. Most solutions might play a single frame per second, since video collaboration takes a hefty amount of processing power, but HP wisely geared SkyRoom toward its high-end desktop and mobile workstations—the very products designed to generate 3D simulations and entertainment content.

HP is rolling the SkyRoom technology into its HP Visual Collaboration unit (formerly called the Halo business unit), and its new product line spans from software videoconferencing through HP Visual Collaboration Desktop, through a combination of hardware and software for the HP Visual Collaboration Executive Desktop on an HP TouchSmart and on to traditional room-based video and telepresence rooms, the latter took advantage of Halo and SkyRoom to create the HP Visual Collaboration Studio product line.

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