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Choosing a Video Conferencing Service
A Buyer's Guide

A Business News Daily Buyer's Guide

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Conferencing calls used to be the most popular way to conduct meetings with colleagues and customers in different locations. However, those phone calls are quickly being replaced by video conferences. 

Previously, the cost and complexity of video conference systems made them best suited for larger organizations. Today's systems, however, are simple to install, easy to use and relatively cheap, which has opened up their use to businesses of all sizes. 

Recent research shows that more than 98% of medium and large organizations are likely to purchase video conferencing solutions, with two-thirds of small businesses planning to do the same.  

An increase in remote work is driving the need for video conferencing solutions. The same research shows that more than 75% of employers want video conferencing software as a way to support meetings with remote employees, with another three-quarters saying they need this type of service because they have multiple offices. 

As it becomes more common for people to work remotely, video conferencing helps teams collaborate in ways that conference calls just can't match. For example, with a video conference you can see, physical gestures and facial expressions, plus you have the ability to share screens.

New simplicity in video conferencing has also opened the door for increased use. Instead of mainly hosting large-group meetings, these systems can easily be used for a one-on-one video chats, as well. 

Choosing the right video conferencing service for your business is important, and asking the right questions matters. How many participants will regularly sit in on your calls? Do you need to integrate other applications, such as Google Docs, to share with other users? How often do you intend to schedule video conferences? You need to consider all of these factors before you decide. A platform with dozens of features could turn out to be a waste of money, but a free video conferencing service might not provide the features you require. 

If you're looking for video conferencing services in 2019, here's everything you need to know about what these solutions offer and how to choose one. Already know what you're looking for? Visit our best picks page to see which ones we recommend.

Editor's Note: Looking for a video conferencing solution? Fill out the below questionnaire to be connected with vendors that can help.

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Video conferencing services allow you to meet and collaborate with others via a high-quality video feed. Unlike a phone call, video conferencing allows you to see those with whom you are meeting, just as if you were in the same room. 

Video conferencing services can be accessed from numerous places, including internet-connected computers and smartphones. Depending on your business's needs, you can also set up video conferencing in a specific location, like a conference room. With this option, cameras are set up to show the entire room and microphones amplify those who are speaking. 

These services give those hosting meetings total control. Video conferencing services give hosts total control of a meeting. Hosts decide who can talk, who can be on video, and who can share their screen. For example, if someone attending the meeting is giving a presentation, the host can allow them to share their screen in order for everyone on the call to see a PowerPoint presentation. 

For those unable to attend the meeting via video, these services give people the option to join the meeting by phone if needed. And while they won't be able to see what is going on, they will at least be able to hear what everyone is saying. 

Many video conferencing services charge on a per-host basis. This means that if you want multiple employees to host their own meetings, they each need a user license. With multiple user licenses, multiple employees can also host video conference calls at the same time. With this cost structure, you are only paying for each host. There is no cost for others to join a meeting. 

Other services offer plans that limit the number of participants in each meeting. Pricing for service plans can also vary depending on how many video feeds can be used simultaneously or how many other features are available. 

Some services offer a completely free plan. These plans typically limit the number of participants to no more than a handful and often put a cap on how long video calls can last. 

For paid plans using a per-host model, costs can range anywhere from $5 per host, per month to north of $50 per host, per month. In addition, some plans require a minimum number of user licenses. 

Instead of charging per host, some focus more on the number of participants on a video conference. For example, you might pay $145 per month for the ability to host video conferences with up to 500 people. This type of cost structure is often used by services focused on the tools a company needs to host webinars. 

As with any other purchase, it's important to know what you need from your video conferencing system before you choose one. For example, a large company might need to loop in dozens of users at once, while a smaller company might only require one-on-one conferences. 

Here's what you should keep in mind when searching for a solution: 

  • Number of participants: Consider how many participants are likely to regularly sit in on your conferences. With some services, you can connect with a handful of participants for free, so if you don't need to connect with a lot of people, you might not pay much (or anything at all). Other services specialize in connecting large numbers of users. The range is wide, so knowing what you need before you start looking can save a lot of time. 
  • Video feeds: While many video conferencing services boast their meetings can host hundreds, if not thousands, of participants at one time, they typically limit the number of video streams; however, others do not. It will serve you well to find out how or if the service limits feeds before you buy. You also want to make sure the video quality is top notch. Some services offer HD video, while others do not. 
  • Ease of use: Don't let an unfriendly user interface hold your business back. Otherwise, you'll start presentations without essential participants watching, or miss an opportunity to connect altogether. 
  • Types of meetings: With some high-end services, you can launch different rooms depending on the type of meeting you're holding. Do you host open-forum Q&As where everybody can give feedback? Are you giving a presentation or lecture and prefer that participants be muted? Know what kinds of meetings you'll typically host, and if you host a variety of meetings, look for a service that accommodates all your needs. 
  • Mobile experience: The whole point of video conferencing is to connect to people remotely, and sometimes that means connecting from mobile devices. Try out a video conference service on both tablets and smartphones to make sure these participants have an equally positive experience as those connecting via desktops or conference room setups. 
  • Video and audio recording: Sometimes, it's helpful to save the highlights of a meeting for later. Video and audio recording capability are essential if you need to go back and replay meetings or conferences. Additionally, an online archive of past meetings can be helpful. For example, you could save snippets of meetings for introductory or training materials for new employees. Pay attention to how much recording space you'll have available. Many of these services store the recordings in the cloud and limit the storage space of each user. 
  • Screen sharing: Screen sharing keeps participants engaged and makes a meeting more interactive. If you need to explain the finer points of a presentation or show a remote employee how to access certain documents, screen sharing can help you do it more effectively. 
  • Room systems: Depending on your needs, you might want to set up a conference room that can be used specifically for video conferencing. Be sure to check whether the service can integrate with your meeting room setup. Sometimes this requires using another vendor to equip the room with proper audio and video equipment. Other times, the video conferencing service itself can provide all of the necessary equipment for an added cost. 
  • Application integration: Many video conference solutions allow you to integrate third-party applications, such as Microsoft PowerPoint. Joining software that you already own with a video conference system can help you import presentations and documents. Moreover, many services have note-taking capabilities, and some allow participants to add notes of their own. Consider which applications you'll use with your conferencing system and how much influence you want participants to have over a meeting. Another integration to consider is your calendar or email client. Some video conferencing services provide plugins for programs like Google Calendar and Outlook. This allows you to quickly and easily schedule meetings. 
  • Customer support: Don't overlook the quality of a company's customer service. It's worth your time to call the customer service line of companies you're considering to get a feel for how they'll treat you. When something goes awry, you'll want a tech support line that responds quickly and accurately, with representatives who treat you with the seriousness and respect your business deserves. 

Many conferencing services offer free trials that last anywhere from a week to a month; some even offer free trials until a certain amount of data is used. There's no need to go in blind when companies offer so many test runs. Take advantage of the free trials, and make sure a service truly meets your needs and addresses your priorities satisfactorily before you buy. 

Video conferencing's effect on human communications is nearly comparable to the effect of the telephone more than a century and a half earlier. And emerging technologies will continue to enhance cloud-based video conferencing as we understand it, as it continues to become a more integral part of doing business in the digital age. 

Augmented reality and virtual reality open up the possibility of collaborating across vast geographical distances as if the participants were physically in the same room. Imagine standing in a virtual space with your business associates, discussing operations amid a sea of interactive charts, schematics and prototypes. That future is rapidly approaching as the technology evolves, and it will make for a more immersive, impactful experience. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) will likely also add to the video conferencing experience in the future. In an article he wrote for Yale Insights, Scott Wharton, vice president and general manager for the video collaboration group at Logitech, said they are developing technology that will benefit meeting rooms with multiple cameras. 

"We're working on some technology where computer vision and AI can automatically frame the shot," Wharton wrote. "Even if you have 20 people in a room, just like humans are smart enough to know where the action is, AI can figure out to choose the person who stands up and walks to the whiteboard."  

If you think a video conference service is right for you, check out our best picks page, which includes our top choices for various types of businesses, our reasoning for selecting each one, and a comprehensive list of reputable video conference services.

Additional Reporting by Adam Uzialko.

Ready to choose a video conference service? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage: 

Editor's Note: Looking for a video conferencing solution? Fill out the below questionnaire to be connected with vendors that can help.

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Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer with more than 20 years of media experience. A graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff as a senior writer. Currently, Chad covers a wide range of B2B products and services, including business phone systems, time and attendance systems, payroll services, and conference call services. Before joining Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago. Chad's first book, "How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business," was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.