The promise and allure of video calling has been with us for almost a century. From 1920s’ Hollywood movies to 1960s’ cartoons and science fiction films, audio-visual communication has been a recurring element of glimpses into the future. Yet despite numerous ‘pioneering’ hardware launches throughout the 1990s and Noughties, video calling remains a tool of the workplace rather than the home.
Fortunately, a variety of business video call providers have created powerful and flexible software that enables people on opposite sides of the world to enjoy crisp, clear communications. Often available for free or via proprietary apps, each platform has its own unique advantages and drawbacks:
1. Skype for Business. Microsoft-owned Skype and Lync have been combined into a familiar interface with some seriously powerful functionality. Meetings can be hosted in Office applications (including Word, remarkably), with up to 250 participants who don’t need accounts of their own. Skype also shows who’s offline, which is handy.
Key benefit: More people will know how to use Skype over any competitor.
Key drawback: It falls short of being a full VoIP system, and some features cost extra.
2. Citrix GoToMeeting. With screen-sharing functionality built in, this veteran service is ideal for hosting online presentations and project collaboration. Attendee lists are smaller than in Microsoft’s offering, but there are options for personal meeting rooms and recording sessions. Delegates can start recording with a single mouse click.
Key benefit: Every attendee can have keyboard and mouse control of a host desktop.
Key drawback: The free version is very limited in its scope.
3. Join.me. Recording and screen sharing are cornerstones of this collaboration tool whose parent company (LogMeIn) has more than 15 million users. Join.me has won various industry awards, offering a simple interface without any software installation or downloads. It also dovetails neatly with platforms like Slack and Evernote.
Key benefit: The absence of software makes it easy to use without tech support.
Key drawback: Despite working on Android, Linux devices aren’t supported.
4. ClickMeeting. Designed to work on almost any platform or desktop interface, ClickMeeting majors on compatibility. Scheduled calls integrate with Office and Google Calendar, while desktop sharing is great for hosting presentations. The interface is more welcoming than some rivals, with plenty of character and colour.
Key benefit: Chat text can be translated into 52 languages for global audiences.
Key drawback: Only four video feeds are displayed per meeting.
5. Cisco WebEx Meeting Center. Cisco was providing video conferencing solutions decades ago, and its solutions are widely respected. Features like whiteboards are suitable for webinars and online meetings as much as video calls. The ability to share certain parts of a screen means pop-up notifications and personal data aren’t visible.
Key benefit: Being able to share selected screen elements is great for privacy.
Key drawback: The interface can be glitchy, with problems displaying text.
6. Adobe Connect. Adobe Flash may be a failed venture, but their photo-editing tools remain industry leading. Another area of Adobe expertise is web conferencing, with Connect offering sophisticated solutions. Although it’s more expensive than other solutions, it offers customisable meeting spaces packed with handy features.
Key benefit: There are no limits on the number of video feeds displayed at once.
Key drawback: The monochrome interface isn’t very pretty, or intuitive to use.
7. Zoom. Often overlooked in lists of the best video-calling tools, Zoom provides HD audio-visual streams in tandem with tools like co-annotation and remote control. Since costs are only incurred after 40 minutes, it’s ideal for relatively brief communications among a small group of delegates.
Key benefit: A single email URL-click takes participants into free conversations.
Key drawback: The countdown timer of remaining free talk time is unprofessional.
Each business has varying requirements for video-calling software, so it’s important to experiment with a shortlist of packages before committing to one, particularly if subscription costs are involved. Most platforms offer free trial periods or no-cost signups for limited access, but avoid permission-grabbing smartphone apps in favour of desktop programmes while you determine whether a particular platform meets all your needs. Also ensure your broadband connection is powerful enough, as some services are more liable than others to buffer or end up with their picture and sound out of sync.