Video Conference vs Skype

There is no doubt that Skype has done much for video conferencing. Its transition from an audio only service to audio with video has enabled millions of people worldwide to accept this form of video conferencing into their daily lives. Keeping up with friends and family overseas has never been easier and with a price tag of free it is a very compelling technology. Many other companies have jumped on the success of Skype notably Apple with Facetime and  Google with Google+ as well as a multitude of other chat and video applications.

Outside of the consumer world enterprises have spent and continue to invest millions of dollars each year on enhancing corporate video conferencing from dedicated video conference rooms, Telepresence suites to desktop and the emerging mobile video conferencing. One of the questions we often get asked is why not just use Skype?

Skype works with Skype. You cannot make a Skype call to a video conference room. Skype uses its own proprietary method of communication there have been some attempts to create video gateways from video conference rooms to Skype clients but all have had limited success maybe things will change on this front with the Microsoft acquisition of Skype although they may well tighten up further and only allow Skype to work with their own Lync offering.

So, why not replace your room system with a Skype embedded smart TV or a desktop PC?

Room based video conference systems come at a price. They come at a price for very good reasons. They use high quality components to provide you with the best possible video conference experience. The table below shows the main differences in Skype in a meeting room vs dedicated hardware.

Typical Room System Skype “Room System”
Microphones Multiple microphones so everyone can be clearly heard Webcam integrated microphone. Causes echo, very susceptible to background noise e.g. aircon very hard to hear all participants
Echo Cancelation Dedicated echo cancelation Microphone and TV speakers are too close together to allow windows to provide echo cancellation. Even if separated echo will cause significant issues
Camera High Quality PTZ camera. Imagine you are in a four way call. Your meeting room will only occupy ¼ of the far end screen. Without the ability to zoom & focus properly a person sitting at the end of the table will only occupy 1% of screen real estate – you might as well be using audio.
Packet loss  In built packet loss  (method varies from manufacturer) Skype calls suffer if packet loss is greater than 5% (very common) Skype normally  uses “relays”  to communicate which dramatically increases packet loss and latency both leading to lower quality
Resolution All recent video conference codecs are capable of either 720p (1280×720) or 1080p (1980×1080) resolution Skype resolution might look fine in a small window on your desktop, but when viewed on a large screen, the quality cannot compete typical Skype calls are QVGA (320×240) and bare the Skype certified logo.

You can see that there are clearly significant differences between Skype in a meeting room and a traditional video conference room.  These factors added together really highlights why I would never consider using Skype in a meeting room environment.