Wouldnï¿½t it be great if you could roll video conferencing capabilities, collaborative computing (including desktop sharing and white-boarding), and instant messaging all into a seamless single package? Well, First Virtual Communicationsï¿½ Click to Meet Express (CTME) does just that and more. CTMEï¿½s Web conferencing provides departments and small companies with an effective way to collaborate online. It allows you to display presentations to several participants, multipoint video/audio over IP, and application sharing. Click to Meet Express combines the best of the Web conferencing world with the best of the video conferencing world into a single integrated Web-based application.
An auto-installing browser plug-in installs all the necessary codecs and configuration software to enable you to invite anyone into a conference via e-mail and then present them with features that includes VoIP audio, video, presentation, and collaboration tools. In addition, if you have already invested in standards-based conferencing equipment (such as a standalone H.323 video conferencing system or SIP conferencing client), Click to Meet Express can include these people in conferences as well. ISDN and ATM conferencing equipment can join in through a gateway. Also, this solution is flexible enough to allow standard PSTN callers from a land-line or even a cell phone.
FVC offers this solution to enterprises as well as service providers who may offer a ï¿½hostedï¿½ solution of this product negating the need for any hardware requirements at the customer premises
-- except video cameras and PCs, of course.
We tested CTME with FVC hosting the solution on their servers. FVC does not typically host the solution (they leave that to service providers), however, to allow us to quickly test their product, they provided the service. Installing the application was a breeze. We logged onto a password-protected site and were presented with an authentication pop-up to install their application. After the application was installed, we entered the conference already in progress.
We didnï¿½t have a camera installed on our PC at the time we captured a four-party conference. However, during the four-party conference, we received three video streams from two FVC employees and FVCï¿½s PR representative
-- all who had cameras. The audio quality was excellent, especially considering we had four people in a single conference. Overall, the video quality wasnï¿½t too bad either considering we were receiving three different video streams.
You can invite participants by entering their e-mail address or utilizing instant messaging
-- either before or during a conference. The invitee simply downloads the auto-installing browser plug-in (if not previously downloaded) and then joins the conference. Participants are not required to have a video camera or microphone, though obviously it improves the experience.
CTME supports advanced Windows XP features, such as echo cancellation, allowing you to conference without using a headset. In fact, one of our test PCs was running Windows XP CTME and the audio quality was excellent even with a freestanding microphone and desktop speakers. FVC claims that the Click to Meet Web plug-in is one of the first products to support Windows XP echo cancellation. The product features an ease-to-use configuration screen for choosing codec, preferred audio device, echo cancellation, silence suppression, and more. FVS claims their product can achieve high-quality multipoint video at up to 30 frames per second (fps), though we experienced a respectable 16fps across the Internet. Certainly, if we had the product installed locally on our LAN, we might have achieved higher frame rates.
At any time any conference participant can request control of the presentation and then load a Word document, PowerPoint presentation, or other Office application simply by browsing to the file on the hard drive. It converts the file to a format that the Web browser can read and then uploads the file to the central CTME server. Each participant accesses this centrally located file to be able to view the document.
For non-Office documents that canï¿½t be converted, sharing the application (uses T.120 standard) is a suitable alternative. The advantage of sharing the application is that you can see mouse movements and keystrokes in near real-time and allow participants to take control for full collaborative brainstorming. We tested the text chat capabilities and we liked that it featured the ability to chat to all participants, as well as private chat. One neat feature is the ï¿½skinsï¿½ feature of CTME, which allows you to choose a skin that allows you to have larger or smaller video windows depending on if you need a ï¿½presentationï¿½ area for displaying Office documents. Also, you can select a skin that features picture-in-picture to view both local and remote video.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
We had some ï¿½low on virtual memoryï¿½ on both a Windows XP and a Windows 2000 PC after running CTME for over 15 minutes. Both machines have 128MB of RAM, so perhaps CTME requires more memory or closing other applications when conferencing. We would like to see more moderator features, which is important in classroom or training-type conferences. For example weï¿½d like to have the ability for the software to allow a moderator to ï¿½muteï¿½ participants or to allow participants to ï¿½raiseï¿½ their hand in order to speak (i.e., click a ï¿½request talkï¿½ button).
If you use third-party conferencing equipment or conferencing services, you can eliminate the dependence on audio bridging service charges, which are usually on a per-minute rate and do not offer the extensive feature-set that Click to Meet Express offers. Since Click to Meet Express is a 100-percent Web-based solution, deployment and future maintenance (i.e., upgrades) are a breeze. TMC Labs was impressed with the ability to hold an Internet-based conference with several participants all with the ability to speak, text-chat, send video, and share applications.
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