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Software, Hardware, and Hybrid, Conferencing Environments

Hardware Solutions

Hardware solutions are traditional video conferencing solutions, or hardware equipment, that use standards-based protocols to communicate to each other.


Traditionally, hardware solutions required similar hardware at all locations to be able to communicate to each other. This required an audio-visual system that connected the hardware solution to displays, cameras, microphones and speakers. This required a dedicated conference room that was outfitted with other hardware equipment, in order to accomplish a conferencing event.


Hardware solutions also required each hardware solution to have a particular license in order to call more than one location—a license called multi-site to allow for up to five locations to join the same conference event.


More than five locations required another hardware solution called a "video bridge" to allow more than five locations to be on the same conference event. This can be a cloud service or on-premises equipment.


Hardware solution’s primary function for communication was voice and video. Content sharing can also be accomplished if the AV solution allows for video connection of a computer to the hardware solution. Hardware solutions don't provide messaging, presence, or software collaboration.


Hybrid Solutions

"Hybrid solutions" are audio-visual systems which utilize both hardware VTC solutions with computer-based software conferencing solutions. "Hybrid" may also refer to:

  • systems which use a cloud or on-premises "bridging solution" to facilitate cross-platform communications.

  • software-only solution communicating with a hardware-only solution, or vice versa.

Some hardware providers offer software solutions which allow desktop and laptop computers to use traditional hardware protocols to communicate to traditional hardware.


Software Solutions

Software solutions are applications that are installed on a computer device and that allow for communication with other devices that have the same software installed, such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom.


Software solutions are usually proprietary and not capable of cross-platform communication. For example: Zoom cannot natively communicate with Microsoft Teams and vice versa.


Software solutions tend to offer a broader range of collaboration features than hardware solutions, such as:

  • Presence

  • Chat

  • Messaging

  • Direct messaging File sharing/transfer

  • Application collaboration (Microsoft Office apps, live editing, group creation, file storage, etc.)

Software solutions normally allow for unlimited participants.


Software solutions can provide audience participation opportunities—via moderated chat, audio, or video—during live events like webinars and town halls.


Software solutions can be integrated into an existing AV solution and used in conference rooms or within larger systems. Connectivity for software solutions is sometimes limited to the computer hardware being used.


Software integrations typically require "ingest hardware" which allows AV equipment to be used as peripherals and accessed by the software.


The popularity of software solutions has increased steadily, however, hardware conferencing solutions are often required in high-security environments.


Professional-grade platforms typically used in commercial, government, and defense sectors:

Platform

Software

Hardware

Cisco - Webex

Both

Both

Microsoft Teams

Predominantly software

MTR solutions and Surface Hub available*

Zoom

Predominantly software

Certified hardware appliances available

Pexip

Predominantly bridging

Predominantly bridging

​GoTo

Predominantly software

?

Ring Central

Predominantly software

?

BlueJeans

Predominantly software and bridging

?

Google Meet/Workspace

Predominantly software

All-in-one hardware displays available

*MTRs are not currently approved for DoD use. IL5 certification not approved?


Platform capabilities:

Capabilities

Hardware

Software

Hybrid

Uses traditional video and audio standards

Protocols: H.323, SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), H.239 Content Share, BFCP Content share.


Video: H.264, H.265, H.263.


Audio: G.711, G.722, G.722.1, G.729AB.


Proprietary

Presence, messaging, chat

None

Native

Content sharing

Yes with H.239 or BFCP

Native

Live collaboration or live editing

None

Native

Webinar or town Hall

Limited to hardware license or external bridging

Native*

File sharing and storage

None

Native*

Recording

None or requires additional AV hardware

Native*

* May require additional licensing

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