Conferencing solutions

Conferencing solutions

Last week Google made headlines with Chromebox for Meetings, a new videoconferencing solution that is a relatively affordable option for small businesses. Just $999 gets your business started with an HD camera, microphone, speaker, remote control and a Chromebox — a miniature computer that runs on Google’s Web-based Chrome OS. But for the very smallest businesses — those with just a handful of employees — there are much more affordable options for meeting remotely.

Chromebox for Meetings eschews the complicated dial-in codes that are normally necessary to connect remote employees to a business meeting, and makes starting a virtual meeting as easy as clicking a button on the remote control. But very small businesses can make do without paying for new hardware. Read on for are six affordable videoconferencing solutions so you can meet with employees, colleagues or clients from anywhere, using your existing desktop PC or mobile device.

Google Hangouts ($9/month for Pro subscription, $49/month for Business subscription)

Google Hangouts ($9/month for Pro subscription, $49/month for Business subscription)

For simple video chat, the free version of Google Hangouts works just fine with the camera on your laptop. The service lets you connect to up to 20 people at once for a face-to-face meeting from any Web-connected device. For $9 per month, business users can upgrade to Hangouts Pro, which raises the attendance cap for each video chat room to 50 people at once, and adds features such as automated email reminders for attendees. A $49/month Business subscription boosts the cap to 100 people and adds the ability to record meetings as a private YouTube video. Hangouts also has features that make video chat easier, such as speaker identification, which lets you always know who is talking.

Adobe Connect ($55/month, $540 per year)

Adobe Connect ($55/month, $540 per year)

Better known for its design and image editing software, Adobe also provides a top-notch video conferencing service called Adobe Connect. The platform has all the tools you need for a smooth virtual meeting. Participants can connect instantly from almost any Internet-connected device, and the software boasts a pared-down interface that’s easy to use for beginners. Attendees can share slides and documents to work collaboratively. You can also run polls and take shared notes during a meeting. And Adobe Connect has advanced features such as the ability to create breakout rooms, private video chat rooms for more focused discussion with a smaller group.

Skype Premium ($9.99/month)

Skype Premium ($9.99/month)

Skype is best-known as a video-calling service to chat with friends and family members. But for business users on a budget, Skype is a competent video-conferencing tool. Video chatting with one other person is free, but upgrading to Skype Premium for $9.99 per month adds a few important features such as group video calling with up to 10 participants. Paying for a premium account also opens up group screen sharing so you and your colleagues can share documents, spreadsheets and presentations and work together.

Cisco WebEx ($24/month, $228/year)

Cisco WebEx ($24/month, $228/year)

Cisco, one of the heavy hitters in the enterprise-grade video conferencing space, also provides the WebEx service for small businesses. A free version is available, but it only supports voice calling; for video, you’ll have to upgrade to the Premium 8 version, which costs $24 per month, or $228 per year. The entry-level subscription lets up to eight users at once join a meeting remotely, and allows for screen sharing for easy presentations. Users can also share documents, spreadsheets and PDFs for collaborative editing. And the service includes an interactive whiteboard feature, letting users share notes, draw charts and more.

Citrix GoToMeeting ($49/month, $468/year)

Citrix GoToMeeting ($49/month, $468/year)

GoToMeeting offers a feature-packed baseline subscription for $49 per month, or $468 per year, letting up to 25 people join at once for a face-to-face virtual meeting. The service makes it easy for hosts to schedule meetings, and makes it easy for guests to join for free by clicking an invitation link from any Web-connected PC or mobile device. The service also has features such as speaker identification, and it offers screen-sharing tools for business presentations. You can even share your keyboard and mouse controls with meeting attendees for smooth collaboration.

Fuze ($8/month)

Fuze ($8/month)

Fuze is an affordable videoconferencing service with a solid feature set. A subscription to Fuze Pro starts at just $8 per month, and lets up to 125 people join a virtual meeting through simultaneous video feeds. The service lets you share your computer screen or an individual program window for instant presentations. It also features a set of markup tools to annotate and edit documents, PDFs and videos collaboratively. Participants can join a meeting from almost any Web-connected device, and hosts can record virtual meetings to review them later.