Most of the technologies we feel are incredibly new, cutting-edge and revolutionary. Truth be told, they are often not nearly as fresh, as we tend to believe. In reality, most of the technologies we consider game-changing have, in one form or another, been around for a long time. Radical shifts in technology are very rare. What changes over time is the quality, availability and application of technology. We see a very good example of this in the evolution of video conferencing.
When Was Video Conferencing Born?
Video conferencing, as we know it today, only began to arrive in a viable commercial format towards the end of the 1990’s. The technology began to achieve mass adoption during the later half of the 2000’s. But the concept was first discussed and developed decades before it found itself adopted en-masse by corporate America.
The first hints of video conferencing were tossed around when television was first invented. Despite it appearing during the first half of the 20th century, it wasn’t until the 1964 World’s Fair that the first video conferencing rig rolled out in New York City. While incredibly impressive, few observers walked away from this demonstration with the belief that mass-market product would ever be more than a science-fiction fantasy.
Six years later, in 1970, AT&T produced the Picturephone, the first attempt to bring video conferencing to the consumer market. AT&T predicted a hit and announced their intention to sell 1 million of the crude units within a decade. Quickly, the telecommunication company’s grand ambitions fell flat. The Picturephone was a flop, largely due to its high cost and low-quality transmissions. It’s refresh rate was nothing more than a single new image frame every two seconds.
Despite this initial commercial failure, video conferencing continued to evolve and improve over the 1970’s and the 1980’s. Most of the technology’s advancements occurred behind closed corporate doors. Whenever any company attempted to introduce these improvements to the market their efforts were undermined by prohibitively high price tags. For example, Compression Lab’s video conferencing system cost a quarter of a million dollars to set up while charging $1,000 an hour for every active line. Ouch!
The Internet Makes Conferencing Approachable
Throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s video conferencing technology continued to improve. The biggest obstacle to its adoption was lack of high-speed high-bandwidth infrastructure. It takes a lot of bandwidth to transmit high-quality video feed. It wasn’t until the evolution of reasonably priced Internet connections in the mid-to-late 1990’s that mass-market video conferencing became viable. In 1996 Microsoft released NetMeeting v 2.0b2, offering one of the first popular and usable online video conferencing solutions the world had ever seen.
Video conferencing technology saw significant quality improvements over the following years, eventually providing its next giant jump in quality and adoption as high-speed internet connections began to proliferate in the early years of the 2000’s. At the same time internet speeds increased, the price of web cameras and other auxiliary technologies dropped dramatically. This made the means of video conferencing available to just about anyone who wanted them.
Since the early 2000’s the quality of video conferencing has seen significant improvements, allowing for much higher quality transmissions. Higher frame rates and high resolution images, allowed for transmissions of one entire conference room to another. Right now we have multiple options to choose from, ranging from portable systems and software applications intended for individual users to large group systems and applications. Most can be rigged to provide transmission of everything from small conferences to large, auditorium-like presentations.
The future of video conferencing, a technology that just 50 years ago was still a science-fiction, is here and now. It begs one important question – “will it benefit my business?”