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Is Video Conferencing a New Technology?

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Most of the technologies we feel are incredibly new, cutting-edge and revolutionary are often not nearly as fresh, as unprecedented or as radical as we tend to believe. In reality, most of the technologies we venerate and praise as game-changing have, in one form or another, been around for a very long time. Radical shifts in technology are very rare. What changes over time is the quality, availability and application of technology.

A very good example of this more accurate history of technology can be seen 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, and the technology only began to achieve mass adoption during the later half of the 2000’s. But video conferencing technology was first discussed and developed decades before it found itself adopted en-masse by corporate America.

The first hints and ruminations of video conferencing were tossed around when television was first invented. Despite the original notion of video conferencing appearing during the first half of the 20th century, it wasn’t until the 1964 World’s Fair that the first video conferencing rig was unveiled in New York City. While incredibly impressive, few observers walked away from this demonstration with the belief that mass-market video conferencing would ever be more than an impractical science-fiction fantasy.

However it only took 6 years until, in 1970, AT&T produced the Picturephone, the first attempt to introduce video conferencing to the general 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, and the Picturephone was a flop, largely due to its high expense and low-quality transmissions (updating its screen with nothing more than a single new image every two seconds).

Despite this initial commercial failure, video conferencing continued to evolve and improve over the 1970’s and the 1980’s, with most of the technology’s advancements occurring behind closed corporate doors. Whenever a company attempted to introduce these improvements to the commercial markets their efforts were undermined by the need for 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.

The Internet Makes Video Conferencing Feasible

Throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s video conferencing technology continued to improve, yet it wasn’t until the development of commercially accessible internet connections in the mid-to-late 1990’s that mass-market video conferencing began to appear truly viable. In 1996 Microsoft released NetMetting 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, making the means of video conferencing available to just about anyone who wanted them.

Since the early 2000’s the quality and scope of video conferencing has seen significant improvements, allowing for much higher quality transmissions as well as larger images, allowing for transmissions of one entire conference room to another. Right now consumers and businesses have multiple video conferencing options to choose from, ranging from portable systems intended for individual users to large group systems that can be rigged to provide immediate transmission of everything from small conferences to large, auditorium-filling presentations.

The future of video conferencing, a technology that just 50 years ago was considered nothing more than a science fiction fantasy, looks blindingly bright and begs the question – how can video conferencing benefit your business?

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