With such a wide array of video conferencing services to choose from in 2019, finding the solution that best fits your business can be a difficult task. To help you narrow down your options, we've studied and evaluated the top video conference services on the market.
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Video conferencing services are an increasingly important communication tool for businesses of all sizes, allowing team members or stake holders in different locations to meet "face to face" with high-definition video and audio feeds. The best video conferencing solutions make communicating with team members and customers across the world an easy process.
It's not only for face-to-face communication; video conferencing software makes easier, but it also makes actual collaboration easier. Team members can work together in real time, using tools to help them brainstorm and hash out ideas together. Features like screen sharing, whiteboarding and presenter swapping all contribute to an environment that breeds new ideas and solutions, rather than just discussion.
The best conferencing services can record and store both video and audio in high definition. This lets team members refer back to a meeting session so they can stay on track or further refine an idea. Many services also offer transcripts of these recordings.
Pricing for the best video conference call services depends on the number of users you need to support and how comprehensive you want your slate of features to be. Most video conferencing solutions adhere to a cost structure that charges per host, per month. Some services even offer free video conferencing plans. When searching for a video conference platform, it is prudent to conduct price comparisons to see which services best fit within your budget.
While we've provided our recommendations for the video conferencing services we think are best, we know that they might not be a fit for all businesses. If our selections don't work for you, search further. As with choosing any business service, it's important to define your needs before looking at solutions. Once you've picked a few out that look promising, compare features and prices until you find the company that best matches your needs.
Video Conference System Pricing
Pricing for video conference services can vary greatly. Many of today's top services are cloud-based, and prices are based on the number of host licenses an organization needs. For businesses that host only one meeting at a time, one license is enough. If multiple employees may need to host video meetings at one time, then your business needs multiple host licenses. Simply joining a meeting generally doesn’t require a license, though often there is a cap on the total number of meeting participants.
While some providers offer free plans, they typically restrict how long a meeting can last and how many people can attend a video conference. Paid plans generally allow for unlimited meetings, and they have higher participant caps and no restrictions on meeting length. These plans can cost anywhere from $5 per host, per month to $50 per host, per month.
Many of the video conference services we looked into offer several different plans. The cost of each service plan is usually based on several factors that you’ll want to consider:
- Meeting participants: The first major consideration is how many meeting participants you anticipate. Generally, the more participants you need for video conferences, the higher your costs. It's important to partner with a vendor that offers service plans appropriate for your number of users; you don't want to waste money on perpetually empty seats just because you narrowly missed the cutoff for a lower plan.
- Video streams: In addition to figuring out how many people you want in a meeting, you also have to determine how many of those participants you want on camera at one time. Some services restrict how many video feeds are turned on at once, while others allow for everyone to have their camera on.
- Features: The way features impact price really depends on the company. Some companies we reviewed offer all their features at every plan level, while others limit the best features to their highest-cost subscriptions. It's important to put together a list of your must-have features before browsing. That way, you will only focus on subscription plans that meet your needs, and then you can compare price points across companies, apples to apples.
- Add-ons: Some video conference platforms offer add-ons to augment the capabilities of a subscription plan, for an extra fee. Typical add-ons include increasing the number of participants, the recording storage space and similar features. Add-ons are a way to expand your subscription package without bumping up to the next pricing tier.
Some service providers, particularly those focused on enterprise companies or conference room hardware, don’t post pricing; instead, they require you to get a quote from a company sales representative. These systems can generally be built out to custom specifications and require a more complex installation and implementation process, so it's important to have a detailed discussion about your needs before establishing an estimated cost.
Since most video conference solutions are cloud-based, many providers offer a limited free trial. This lets you take the software for a spin so you'll have a better understanding of what you're getting before you start discussing which plan is best for you. However, some companies restrict features or set limits in their trial and free versions.
Before making a final decision, make sure you understand exactly what you'll get for your money. For example, if you were given a demo of the highest pricing tier available but then purchase the midrange subscription, you might be surprised to learn you're missing some of the features the demo sold you on. Luckily, most video conference companies clearly spell out which features are available in which plans on their websites.
What to Expect in 2019
As remote work drives the future of enterprise and small businesses alike, video conferencing is poised to be a necessary business technology for years to come. Video Conferencing Daily, a website focused on industry news, reports that the value of the enterprise video conferencing market is expected to jump to $4.48 billion by 2023. All this growth means the video conferencing market could change quite a bit.
Additionally, businesses need to offer several ways for employees to communicate and collaborate. As Slack-type work chats continue to drive employee connection, video will become a bigger component of these messaging platforms. Eventually, all of the different communication types – audio, chat, video – will collide to make one unified platform. This follows a pattern toward a singular, simple communication platform.
Expect artificial intelligence to play a larger role in video conferencing moving forward, as well. In a piece he wrote for Yale Insights, Scott Wharton, a vice president and group manager at Logitech, said they are working on using AI and computer vision to help frame shots in video conference rooms so the camera is always focused on the person speaking.
Wharton also predicts that in the next 10 years, we could be seeing video conferencing using virtual reality and augmented reality. Instead of watching meetings on a TV or computer screen, you may just be using regular glasses. This could allow for 3D or holographic meetings.
Video Conferencing Features
Video conferencing platforms do more than facilitate face-to-face talks over the internet, although they excel at connecting teams with high-definition audio and video. They are also full-scale collaboration tools with an arsenal of features to help teams better engage with one another and develop ideas right on the computer screen.
When shopping around for a video conferencing solution, you need to understand which features belong in which service plans. Sometimes, companies restrict the best features to higher pricing tiers. Other companies offer full access to features at all pricing levels and restrict other aspects, like recording space and storage.
Here are some of the video conferencing features we think businesses will find most valuable:
- HD video: Most video conferencing services provide high-definition video so every participant on camera shows up crystal clear. High-quality video is a key component of any conferencing solution.
- Screen sharing: One of the most important collaboration features is the ability for presenters to share their desktops. Whether you need to walk colleagues through presentations and files or you're training new employees or clients on how to use a system, the ability to share your screen is invaluable.
- Recording: The best video conferencing services allow users to record and store both video and audio. This is useful for crucial meetings where big topics are up for discussion or for webinars that include useful training material. It also means you can keep track of meetings or interactions that clients might want to review later.
- Cloud storage: Many services allow users to store their recordings in the cloud. Storage space varies by company, and the price may depend on your service plan.
- Dial-in numbers: There are times when not everyone is able to join a video conference on camera. To give those participants a way to join, most video conferencing solutions provide toll-free numbers for people to call and listen in via an audio feed. Some platforms also provide international numbers for those joining from overseas.
- Whiteboard: This immensely useful collaboration tool allows users to mark up documents or sketch out ideas in a cooperative brainstorming process. Whiteboarding tools are great for sessions where multiple participants are spitballing in-depth ideas that others could benefit from seeing represented visually.
- Calendar integration: Many video conferencing services integrate with popular calendar programs like Outlook and Google Calendar, allowing you to schedule meetings straight from these apps. Once you schedule the video conferences, the meeting automatically shows on your calendars.
- Polls and surveys: Users can create polls or surveys for the audience so presenters can gain feedback or insights about the topic at hand. The information could be used to determine a specific course of action, delegate responsibilities or simply solicit feedback to improve future workflows. Users can generally create polls with single-choice, multiple-choice or open-ended questions.
- Group messaging: Some of the best video conferencing services include in-app chat tools that allow users to send messages to all of those attending the meeting. This useful tool lets participants share an opinion without interrupting the speaker.
- Subaccounts: This feature enables you to grant other users access to a specific account without divulging your login credentials. All subaccount users receive their own private login credentials, as well as their own allocation of storage space for recording and storing video and audio.
- Mobile apps: Most video conference solutions have mobile apps for iOS and Android devices. Users can generally join and host meetings from these mobile apps.
- Meeting locks: For added security, some video conferencing solutions allow hosts to make sure only those who are supposed to be attending can access the meeting.
Other features businesses might find valuable are single sign-on, recording transcripts, open APIs, virtual waiting rooms, the option for multiple people to host a meeting and custom branding.
Video Conferencing FAQs
Q: Does video conferencing have a good ROI?
A: While return on investment for video conferencing services will be different for every company based on its needs and how it operates, it's safe to say that most organizations will quickly see a benefit to their bottom line.
Video conferencing software allows businesses to cut back on travel costs and increase collaboration efforts among employees, which in turn will boost productivity.
According to video conferencing service provider Highfive, these solutions also reduce a business's carbon footprint, speed up the time to market for strategic projects, allow employers to meet employee demands for flexibility, and increase morale thanks to better employee work-life balance.
To give organizations a better idea of video conferencing's ROI, Highfive developed a formula to estimate the benefit:
- ROI = investment revenue – investment cost/investment cost
In this formula, investment revenue is the money that video helps a business save or generate, while investment cost is the money you spend on the video conference solution.
Highfive conducted a sample ROI for a fictitious company of 200 people. You can see the specifics, but based on the formula it developed, the ROI on cloud-based video conferencing services for this fake company was more than 23,000%.
Q: What is video conferencing software?
A: Video conferencing is increasingly popular in today's emerging remote work environment, as it gives employees an easy way to connect with each other. With lower overhead costs, smaller offices and reports of increased productivity driving companies to accommodate remote employees, video conferencing software provides an avenue for workers to stay engaged with one another and the business.
Video can provide that next level of connection in a way audio conferencing simply can't match. For teams to be working at their best, they need to engage in the most meaningful communication possible.
Video conferencing software was developed to achieve exactly that kind of meaningful communication. With this software, teams can interact as if they were in the same room, even when they are thousands of miles apart. Even scattered teams can come together as if they were sitting around a conference table to see, hear and interact with one another. Video conferencing apps are largely cloud-based, but there are also conference room solutions that focus more on hardware and local implementation.
Q: What hardware do you need for video conferencing?
A: When it comes to video conference services, you may need a bunch of hardware or no hardware at all. It all depends how you plan to use it.
If you just plan to make calls where everyone connects via their computer or mobile device, then no actual hardware is required. Users can simply log in to the service through a desktop or mobile app, and the cameras and microphones on their computers and devices will provide with all the functionality they need.
Actual video conferencing equipment is required when you want to create a dedicated space inside your business for video meetings. This could be a conference room, a huddle space or any other area where you want to offer video conferencing. In these instances, you will need several main pieces of hardware, including a video camera, microphone, speaker and display monitor. The other piece of hardware a video room needs is a device to run the video conference software, such as a computer or tablet. This is how you access the video conference system, control meetings and share your screen.
The quality of this equipment varies greatly, so make sure you research what is available and how it matches up with your needs.
Q: What are the advantages of video conferencing?
A: Video conference meetings provide a number of benefits. One of the biggest is that everyone can see each other during a meeting. Unlike conference calls, where you only hear what everyone is saying, video calls allow all of the attendees to see each other when they are talking.
Research from Highfive shows that people can understand more of what is being said when they can see the expressions of the person speaking. The study found that 93% of communication is non-verbal. A lot of what is said can be lost in translation if people can't see each other.
When remote employees have opportunity to participate in video meetings where they can see their in-office colleagues, it can make them feel more like part of a team and not just someone who is on the other end of a phone.
Video conferencing can also save organizations a lot of money. Instead of traveling to meet with far-flung employees, customers or colleagues, video conference meetings give people a chance to hold face-to-face meetings from wherever they’re based. This can result in significant cost savings.
In addition to saving money, traveling less also benefits the environment. Research from Chorus.ai and Zoom found that virtual meetings, when compared to traveling for face-to-face meetings, can significantly reduce a company’s carbon footprint.
The study compared an in-person meeting, that required someone to travel from New York to San Francisco and a virtual meeting. When you factor in the plane trip, transportation to and from the airport, lodging and food, the in-person meeting used 1,515 pounds of carbon dioxide. The virtual meeting, which factored in a commute to and from the office, used just 9 pounds of carbon dioxide.
To select the best video conference services for businesses, we created a list of more than 30 reputable companies based on our own research, other reviews and online rankings.
From there, we eliminated vendors that emphasize video conferencing hardware rather than a complete video conference service. We also eliminated video conference providers that specialize in hardware to be used with another service's software.
After some initial research into the remaining vendors, we cut our list down to 13 finalists: 8x8, Amazon Chime, Arkadin, ClickMeeting, GoToMeeting, Highfive, Intermedia, Join.me, Microsoft Teams, RingCentral, Webex, Zoho and Zoom.
We then conducted in-depth research into each finalist. We scoured their websites, read user comments, reviewed Better Business Bureau ratings and complaints, and tested the services when free trials were available. After we narrowed down the list to our final contenders, we contacted each company posing as business owners to assess the customer service.
Please note that our process is based solely on using the same research methods that are available to business owners. We didn't speak to PR representatives or company executives. Similar to what an actual potential buyer does when selecting a service or software, we perform all of our research by visiting company websites, making calls to customer service departments and testing out the systems through free trials when they are available.
We analyzed each service and made our final choices based on these factors: ease of use, features, supported number of meeting participants, number of video feeds that can be on at one time, cost and customer service.
Common Video Conferencing Questions & Answers
Absolutely! When used properly, this method of communication is fantastic for building business relationships both within the company (if you have offsite workers) and with customers/clients. Treat a video conference just like a normal in-person meeting: dress appropriately, be conscious of what the camera is and isn't picking up at all times, and make sure that you know how to use the video conferencing software/interface like a pro--enough to help others in the meeting if they have...
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