Video conferencing software: 5 platforms to get you started in 2020

Enhanced video conferencing software has facilitated a significant increase in home working practices in recent years. And as companies become more in tune with ways to improve employee health and wellbeing, boost productivity, meet environmental obligations and the needs of an ever global customer base, we expect video conferencing software usage to continue rising. 

Recent global developments have, of course, forced companies to utilise video conferencing software perhaps quicker than anticipated. Below we consider some of the best available tools for connecting remote employees and mitigating against unexpected disruptions. 

1. Skype 

Those uninitiated with the world of video conferencing software will likely turn to Skype as their first port of call. The chances are, you’ve probably used it to speak to family and friends at some point. But the platform offers great features for business communication too. It’s an app or browser-based tool. So, if you want to get on and use it quickly, you can simply register online for free and invite people to a video conference using their email address.

Up to 10 people can join a browser-based video session. If you go ahead and download the Skype app, the free version allows up to 50 participants. Larger companies may use Skype for Business. This is a paid-for upgrade that allows up 250 people to video conference simultaneously. Though, this platform is being phased out over the next couple of years and replaced with Microsoft Teams (See below).  

Some of Skype’s key features include:

-Good voice and video quality (depending on internet speed)

-Screen sharing options

-Automatically blur backgrounds

-Live subtitling of conversations

-Ability to record chats. 

2. Microsoft Teams

Launched in 2017, Microsoft Teams is a remote working platform combining workspace chat functionality and instantaneous multi-person video conferencing. It’s included in Office 365 business accounts and an obvious ‘cost-effective’ solution for companies with existing Microsoft subscriptions.

A free version has recently lifted user-number and data storage restrictions. The 1 month free trial has been extended to 6 months too. Teams now also allows you to add participants from outside of your company’s network and include them in video conferencing sessions.

Maximising the potential of Teams is only really possible for companies that operate in a Microsoft environment. Some critics also point to aesthetic issues vis-à-vis the design being too formal and compartmentalised. 

Some of Microsoft Teams’ key features include: 

- Fully integrated with Office 365

-Launch video conferencing sessions via chat groups

-Invite guests from outside company network

-Collaborate on the go across multiple devices

-Excellent cybersecurity standards

3. Zoom

An emerging competitor to the larger established players,  Zoom offers high-quality easy-to-use video conferencing solutions to meet business needs. A free version allows up to 100 video conference participants. And like Skype, it has browser as well as App-based platforms. Plugins for Outlook and Chrome also facilitate scheduling and administration.  

Restrictions on the free version mean video conferences with more than three people are limited to 40-minutes long.

Upgrades are competitively priced and enable uses to connect with Skype for Business, so participants on both platforms can interact. The ‘business’ option operates on a cost per-host basis and requires a minimum of 10 hosts per company. Up to 200 people can join video conferences on this model and there's no limits to how long sessions can last.

Some of Zoom’s key features include:

-Secure encryption

-Application sharing

-Whiteboarding and annotations

-Recording meetings

-HD video

4. Cisco Webex Meetings

Webex is another established player in the video conferencing market. Eric Yuan, the founder of Zoom, was an engineer at the business during the 1990s. It was acquired by Cisco Systems in 2007.

Like Microsoft Teams, it offers video conferencing as part of a wider suite of collaborative tools. App and browser versions are also available. Though, the former delivers a superior overall experience.  

A free version allows up to 100 participants, including 25 simultaneous feeds. Simply registering online provides you with a personalised URL used to invite people to video conferences.

For additional features including cloud storage, transcriptions of recordings, analytics and troubleshooting services, various price plans exist. Although costs have declined in recent years, they are still high compared to other providers. 

Some of Webex’s key features include:

-Minimal voice and video lag

-25 simultaneous video feeds

-HD video

-Screen sharing

-Impressive performance and encryption

5. Google Hangouts

Originally part of Google+, since 2013 Hangouts has been a standalone Google product. It can be accessed by anyone with a Gmail account. And the basic Hangouts Meet feature facilitates video conferencing sessions for up to 10 people. 

App and browser versions are available. And because it’s fully integrated with other Google platforms, scheduling via Calendar is easy.

Subscribers to the enterprise edition of G-Suite enjoy additional Hangout features. They include unlimited storage, recording to Google Drive, and meetings of up to 250 people.  Since March 2020, however, access to G-Suite has been available for free. This is to assist businesses and schools around the world impacted by COVID-19. The offer will remain in place until July 1st, 2020.

Some of Google Hangouts’ key features include:

-Speed and convenience

-HD video

-Built-in screen sharing

-Stream video calls via YouTube

-Intelligent Muting

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