No new technology goes smoothly, and video conferencing had more than its share of bumps in the road before becoming the widely used communications staple it is today. The history of video conferencing in its earliest form dates back to the 1960s, […]
No new technology goes smoothly, and video conferencing had more than its share of bumps in the road before becoming the widely used communications staple it is today. The history of video conferencing in its earliest form dates back to the 1960s, when AT&T introduced the Picturephone at the New York World’s Fair. While it was considered a fascinating curiosity, it never caught on and was too expensive to be practical for most consumers when it was offered for $160 a month in 1970. Commercial use of actual video conferencing was first done with the Ericsson demonstration of the first ocean liner LME Video Call. Soon, other companies began refining video conferencing technologies, including advances such as the Network Video Protocol (NVP) in 1976 and the Packet Video Protocol (PVP) in 1981. Neither of these were put into commercial use, however. and remained in the laboratory or in a private company. worn out. In 1976, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone established video conferencing (VC) between Tokyo and Osaka for company use. IBM Japan followed suit in 1982 by establishing VC running at 48000 bps to connect to internal IBM videoconference links already established in the United States so they could have weekly meetings. The 1980s introduces commercial video conferencing In 1982, Compression Labs introduces its VC system to the world for $250,000 with lines running for $1,000 an hour. The system was huge and used enormous resources capable of tripping 15 amp circuit breakers. However, it was the only working VC system available until PictureTel’s VC hit the market in 1986 with its substantially cheaper $80,000 system with $100-per-hour lines. In the time between these two commercially offered systems, other video conferencing systems were developed that were never commercially offered. The history of video conferencing is not complete without mentioning these systems that were either prototypes or systems developed specifically for internal use by a variety of corporations or organizations, including the military. Around 1984, Datapoint was using the Datapoint MINX system at its Texas campus and had provided the system to the military. In the late 1980s, Mitsubishi started selling a still phone that was basically a flop on the market. They dropped the line two years after introducing it. In 1991, IBM introduced the first PC-based video conferencing system: PicTel. It was a black and white system using what was incredibly cheap at the time at $30 an hour for the lines, while the system itself was $20,000. In June of the same year, DARTnet successfully connected a transcontinental IP network of more than a dozen research sites in the United States and Great Britain using T1 trunks. Today, DARTnet has become the CAIRN system, connecting dozens of institutions. CU-SeeMe Revolutionizes Video Conferencing One of the most famous systems in the history of video conferencing was the CU-SeeMe developed for the MacIntosh system in 1992. Although the first version had no audio, it was the best video system developed for that point. By 1993, the MAC program had multipoint capability, and by 1994, the CU-SeeMe MAC was a true video conference with audio. Recognizing the limitations of MAC support in a Windows world, the developers worked diligently to release the April 1994 CU-SeeME for Windows (without audio), closely followed by the audio version, CU-SeeMe v0.66b1. for Windows in August 1995. In 1992, AT&T released its own $1,500 videophone for the home market. It was a borderline success. In the same year, the world’s first MBone audio/video broadcast took place and in July INRIA’s video conferencing system was launched. This is the year that saw the first real explosion in video conferencing for businesses around the world, and eventually led to the standards developed by the ITU. International Telecommunication Union Develops Encryption Standards The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) began developing standards for videoconferencing encryption in 1996, when they established the H.263 Standard to reduce bandwidth for low-rate communications transmission. of bits. Other standards were developed, including H.323 for packet-based multimedia communications. These are a variety of other telecommunications standards that were revised and updated in 1998. In 1999, the Moving Pictures Expert Group developed the MPEG-4 standard as an ISO standard for multimedia content. In 1993, VocalChat Novell IPX networks introduced their video conferencing system, but it was doomed from the start and didn’t last long. Microsoft finally jumped on the video conferencing bandwagon with NetMeeting, a descendant of PictureTel’s Liveshare Plus, in August 1996 (although it didn’t have video in this version). By December of the same year, Microsoft NetMeeting v2.0b2 with video was released. That same month, VocalTec’s Internet Phone v4.0 for Windows was released. VRVS connects global research centers The Virtual Room Videoconferencing System (VRVS) project at Caltech-CERN began in July 1997. They developed VRVS specifically to provide videoconferencing to Large Hadron Collider Project researchers and scientists at the nuclear and high energy industries. Physics Community in the United States and Europe. It has been so successful that seed money was allocated for phase two, CalREN-2, to improve and expand the existing VRVS system to expand it to include geneticists, physicians, and a host of other scientists on the video conferencing network. around the world. The development team at Cornell University released CU-SeeMe v1.0 in 1998. This color video version was compatible with Windows and MacIntosh, and was a huge step forward in PC video conferencing. In May of that year, the team moved on to other projects. In February 1999, MMUSIC released the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). The platform showed some advantages over H.323 that the user appreciated and soon made it almost as popular. 1999 was a busy year, with the release of NetMeeting v3.0b, quickly followed by version three of the ITU H.323 standard. Then came the release of iVisit v2.3b5 for Windows and Mac, followed by Media Gateway Control Protocol (MGCP) version 1. In December, Microsoft released a service pack for NetMeeting v3.01 (4.4.3388) and an ISO standard MPEG-4 version two was released. Finally, PSInet was the first company to launch H.323 automated multipoint services. As we said, 1999 was a very busy year. SIP entered version 1.30 in November 2000, the same year the H.323 standard reached version 4, and Samsung launched its 3G MPEG-4 video streaming mobile phone, the first of its kind. It was a success, particularly in Japan. As expected, Microsoft NetMeeting had to release another service pack for version 3.01. In 2001, Windows XP messenger announced that it would now support Session Initiation Protocol. This was the same year that the world’s first transatlantic telesurgery using video conferencing was carried out. In this case, video conferencing was instrumental in allowing a surgeon in the US to use a robot abroad to perform gallbladder surgery on a patient. It was one of the most compelling non-commercial uses in the history of videoconferencing and brought the technology to the attention of the medical profession and the general public. In October 2001, television reporters began using a portable satellite and videophone to broadcast live from Afghanistan during the war. It was the first use of video conferencing technology to have a live video chat with someone in a war zone, which once again brought video conferencing to the forefront of people’s imaginations. Founded in December 2001, the Joint Video Team completed the basic research leading to ITU-T H.264 in December 2002. This protocol standardized video compression technology for both MPEG-4 and ITU-T in a wide range of application areas, It is more versatile than its predecessors. In March 2003, the new technology was ready for industry release. New uses for video conferencing technologies 2003 also saw the increase in the use of video conferencing for off-campus classrooms. Interactive classrooms became more popular as streaming video quality increased and delay decreased. Companies like VBrick provided various MPEG-4 systems to universities across the country. Desktop video conferencing is also on the rise and gaining popularity. Newer companies on the market are now refining performance details other than the nuts and bolts of the drivetrain. In April 2004, Applied Global Technologies developed a voice-activated camera for use in video conferencing that tracks the voice of multiple speakers to focus on whoever is speaking during a conference call. In March 2004, Linux announced the release of GnomeMeeting, a free H.323-compliant video conferencing platform that is compatible with NetMeeting. With the constant advancements in video conferencing systems, it seems obvious that the technology will continue to evolve and become an integral part of business and personal life. As new advancements are made and systems become more reasonably priced, keep in mind that options are still determined by the type of network, system requirements, and what your particular conferencing needs are. This article on “The History of Video Conferencing” is reproduced with permission.
Copyright © 2004 Evaluseek Publishing.