A Brief Overview on the Evolution of Video Conference

“Evolution is the fundamental idea in all of life’s science.”

Bill Nye

Technology is becoming more and more a crucial factor in our daily lives, as humans constantly seek for creative ways of saving time, money, and unneeded stress. With that in mind, the popularity of internet and it’s increasing bandwidth has played a major role in the boom that videoconferencing (VC) systems have been experiencing over the years.

But where did they come from and how have they evolved over the years you ask?

Perhaps we should start with a brief definition of what’s VC before moving forward:

The Transmission of Audio and Video in Real Time… that’s pretty much it.

Now, let’s have a look at how things have evolved since the early days all the way to some future predictions.

The Beginning of the Beginning

The invention of television and video conferencing are forever intertwined. Why? Because it was at that exact moment that was possible to conduct a rudimentary analog conference, basically consisting of two closed circuit television systems connected via cable.

An equally crucial event for its development was The Teleconference of the US Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, which took place in 1927, the exact same year in which television was invented.

Herbert Hoover 1927

Herbert Hoover, 1927

The first real peer to peer video conferencing device dates back to the early 60’s. It was called PicturePhone and was presented by AT&T in New York, in 1957.

PicturePhone 1957

Article on TALK magazine, January 1957, about PicturePhone

Despite the curiosity surrounding it, it would never become popular due to it’s expensive cost.

PicturePhone 1964

PicturePhone add (1964)

70’s and 80’s

By the end of the 70’s it became pretty clear that despite all the marketing efforts made near the general public, the PicturePhone was doomed, since it was a huge commercial failure.

It would end up being in the 80’s that Commercial Video Conferencing would emerge, namely in 1982, when Compression Labs introduced their system to the world, for the handsome sum of just $250.000; and in 1986 PictureTel’s VC would hit the market with it’s system at just $80,000.

The 1900’s

IP developments and the increased efficiency of video compression technology were the engines that propelled VC Systems into a whole new level, allowing Desktop and PC-based Videoconferencing.

In 1991, IBM would launch its first PC-based VC System, PicTel; in 1992, CU-SeeMe would be made available to the public, running on Apple Macintosh, and despite lacking audio, it was by far the best system developed to date. Macintosh would later on introduce Multipoint Video Conferencing, and on June 24th, 1995, the first public Video Conference was held between North America and Africa.

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The next crucial step, would be finding ways to provide VC to those in need of a fast, simple and affordable service. Eyenetwork would be associated to another ground breaking event in 1996, offering public video conferencing facilities for hire to companies and clients all over the world.

It wouldn’t be long before VC started infiltrating the masses via numerous free services and softwares, such as NetMeeting, MSN Messenger, or Yahoo Messenger, to name a few. Video quality was poor at best, but it was only a matter of time before the technology made it’s way to corporate desktops around the world.

The 2000’s

The next landmark in VC technology would take place in 2001, when French surgeons used it to conduct a gall blader surgery in Strasbourg from a location in New York City; this would mark the introduction of the technology in the medical field.

Surgery performed by french surgeons (view source)

By 2003, high-speed internet access became widely available at a reasonable cost, and at the same time, there would be a significant decrease of costs as per video capture and display tech; these, in conjunction with a series of other factors, including the availability of free software from leading IM service providers, would combine to make VC even more accessible to consumers.

For many however, the first VC experience would happen in 2003 with the release of Skype, followed by MSN Video Launch in 2004, and cloud-based services would be introduced in 2008 by WiredRed, under the Nefsis brand name.

The Future?

The exponential pace in which technology develops naturally resonates in VC, so It’s extremely hard to predict exactly what the future will hold. Still, one of the latest developments is the so called “I-Robot” and another area with extreme potential is 3D Holographic VC, with researchers from Ontario developing a life-size hologram like telepod that uses Microsoft’s Kinect System and a cylindrical display for live, 3D VC.

To sum it all up, it will be extremely interesting to see how VC technology will develop in the years to come, but from recent developments, one can pretty much assume that VC robots and hologram projections will be in the mix; the only granted thing, is that the technology will continue to evolve dramatically.

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