The scoop: OmniJoin Web and videoconferencing, by Brother, starting at $50 per month.
What is it? The OmniJoin service is a collaboration and Web conferencing platform that provides high-quality videoconferencing features for attendees. At the basic level, up to 30 attendees can join a meeting, with up to 12 video windows to provide face-to-face interaction. The OmniJoin Pro service offers up to 50 attendees and up to 20 video windows during a meeting, and an enterprise version is also available with customized settings for licenses, attendees and video participants.
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As with other Web conferencing services (think GoToMeeting, LiveMeeting or WebEx), OmniJoin meeting hosts can share a PowerPoint presentation, an application, a whiteboard, their desktop, hold a chat with attendees and share files. Control of a meeting can be exchanged from hosts to any attendee, providing for remote collaboration (for example, working together on a spreadsheet or other application). Hosts can set up meetings in advance via their OmniJoin client application, or through the OmniJoin website, or conduct ad hoc meetings with other contacts in an instant messaging-like fashion.
Meetings can be recorded for attendees that miss a session, with video (MP4 format) being stored locally on hosts' computers (an upcoming version will record and store video through the cloud). For audio, customers can use multipoint, full-duplex VoIP via the service, or use a traditional telephone audioconference option.
While the video can be handled by any standard webcam found on attendees' computers (or external USB webcams), Brother also makes its own hardware -- the company's NW-1000 HD Videocam ($100) provides full 1080p or 720p video, a built-in stereo microphone and plug-and-play connectivity via USB 2.0 port. The company also makes a Compact Speakerphone (model VT-1000, $100), which enables mobile users to convert their smartphones into higher-quality speakerphones. The hardware isn't required to use with OmniJoin, but both devices fully support the service.
Why it's cool: The service utilizes cloud technology to provide videoconferencing servers that clients connect to, rather than set up peer-to-peer connections between attendees. The cloud technology, along with additional parallel processing and multimedia processor extensions, aims to improve video quality for everyone in a meeting room. The system uses dynamic scalable video (MPEG-4 variable bitrate encoding) that gives HD quality to users who have enough bandwidth, but then scales down on a per-connection basis to clients with lower bandwidth (more details here).
The collaboration tools are quite nice and easy to use -- the user interface is easy to navigate for hosts and attendees. The service offers multiple layouts for video windows and application sharing -- if meeting hosts want to just have a large video chat without any application sharing or presentations, they can make video windows larger, for example.
The service seems quite nice for disperse groups of employees that need to work together on projects -- OmniJoin seems quite suitable for telemedicine, education, engineering and even boardroom settings.
Some caveats: There are some issues with Macintosh clients in the ability to see videos played from a host (the host was using a Windows video player and I couldn't see it play on my Mac) as well as the ability to share files. Brother says updates to Mac users will be available by the end of the year.
Grade: 4 stars (out of five)
Shaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @shawkeith.
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