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Technology Untangled: Videoconferencing made easier with Zoom

December 26, 2018

technology-bourIn our court reporting business, it seems that an increasing percentage of depositions are including participants via videoconferencing. We use our Polycom IP videoconferencing system to connect with many large and medium-sized law firms that have similar systems set up in their boardrooms. These systems are not necessarily economical for the small law firm that only has an occasional need for videoconferencing.

Over the years, I have investigated a number of computer-based systems to facilitate economical “videoconferencing.” Skype is often considered as a technology that can suffice to conduct a face-to-face meeting via computer. I never found it to be a great fit for depositions or serious work. The connection was often unreliable.

The computer-based solution that I found and prefer to use is called Zoom. Zoom (https://zoom.us) is a Skype-like paid subscription service. It is reliable, simple to use and relatively inexpensive. Facilitating an HD video connection is as simple as sending an email invitation.

The portability of Zoom videoconferencing is a great benefit. You can’t simply pack up a Polycom IP system from the boardroom and take it on the road. For a recent example, I was asked to facilitate an IP videoconferencing deposition with an ophthalmologist. He was located close to our office, so the plan was for him to come to us. However, his schedule was so tight that the plan changed. Could we do the videoconference from his office? With Zoom and a laptop, yes, we could. I packed up a camera, microphone and computer and went to his office to perform a test.

Primarily, Zoom is intended to negotiate computer-to-computer video connections, but it is more flexible than that. You can also facilitate connections with boardroom IP videoconferencing systems. This simply requires subscribing to an optional add-on feature that allows you to negotiate the connection. I was able to connect the physician to the attorney’s office with no difficulty.

The versatility of connecting via Zoom is another plus. You can invite participants to connect to your meeting in a number of ways. A laptop computer is not required. Attendees also can participate via iPad or smartphone. For those who don’t want or need a video connection, they can also participate with audio only through a standard telephone. With the telephone connection, Zoom essentially works like a multi-party speakerphone conference call. To set up a meeting, you open your Zoom room and invite participants via an email link. That email provides your attendees with all of the connection details, including an automatic download of the Zoom software.

I have conducted Zoom meetings that included more than a dozen participants with no trouble. In these instances, the speaker identification feature is very useful. A square lights up around the image of whoever is speaking at the moment. This is a big advantage compared to a standard conference call situation in which it can be hard to identify all of the speakers. It can also be quite advantageous for the court reporter.

Zoom also provides the ability to record your meeting and to save the event to the cloud. This allows for sharing and review by all participants, which could be useful for business meetings and team planning sessions.

Here are some important technical considerations. Just about any laptop computer that has a camera and a microphone will work with the Zoom software. I recommend that, when possible, you work with a hard-wired LAN connection to the internet, although a Wi-Fi connection will work. If your computer does not have a LAN port, you can easily add one by purchasing a USB-to-LAN dongle.

The concern with Wi-Fi is reliability related. There can be issues with bandwidth and stability of the connection. Be aware that the speed rating that your internet provider advertises is based on a wired connection. The connection via Wi-Fi is typically slower. The important point is to always test your setup before an important videoconference. In general, the Zoom software knows how to adapt the data flow based on the quality of the connection. It will reduce the quality of the video slightly, if necessary, in preference to maintaining a stable audio connection.

Two other highly recommended hardware additions are an external USB speaker/microphone and an external USB HD camera. These will substantially enhance the videoconferencing experience. For the speaker/mic, I like the Jabra line of products. They provide excellent fidelity that is as good as or better than most conference room speakerphones.

With the external devices, you get more versatility on the placement of things for your meeting. You can move the speaker/mic around on the table, allowing for the best sound transmission. You can mount the external HD camera on a small tripod to allow for more adjustment for framing the person speaking. I like this better than the typical view you get using the integrated laptop camera, which is usually too tight and restricted. You can also slide the computer aside and use an HDMI output to employ a larger monitor.

The Zoom Pro subscription is just $15/month. There is also a free trial version. I was surprised to learn that the free version is not a short-term, stripped-down trial offer. You can use it as long as you want. If all you need is a one-to-one computer connection between two participants, it will work well. It allows for unlimited connection time. If you need to communicate between three or more participants, you can still do that, but you will be limited to a 40-minute meeting duration. The option to connect to IP videoconferencing systems only comes with a paid subscription.

The next time you are tired of fussing with Skype and want to have a quick face-to-face meeting, give Zoom a try. If you are considering adding a videoconferencing system to your office, you should investigate Zoom first. This is especially worth considering if you only intend to use videoconferencing on an occasional basis.•

Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support, Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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