Cheap Web conferencing
Though Idealware is based in Portland, Maine, I work from Portland, Oregon, which means we do a lot of videoconferencing. LIke many orgs, we struggle with the best setup for the technology. Lauren Haynes, IT Manager for the Ounce of Prevention Fund in Chicago, kindly wrote this guest post for us about the “cheap and cheerful” video conferencing setup her organization threw together to make it easier for staff to participate in online conferencing from anywhere in the office.
If you had to guess how much it would cost to build an easy-to-use, relatively open video conferencing system, what would you guess?
What if I told you the whole thing could be built (and loved) for $1, 500 - $3, 000?
We had a board member that wanted to videoconference in to a meeting. He suggested we purchase an iMac so he could join the meeting via FaceTime. As much as I appreciate board members driving technology usage, we weren’t about to drop $1, 300 at a minimum on an iMac for a 21 inch screen.
So we built this instead:
Here’s what you need to build a sweet, fairly cheap video conferencing cart:
- Cart - $450
- A flat screen television (in our case, a 46 inch tv) - $575
- Web Cam - $100 - $200
- An HDMI Cable - $25
- 4 port USB extender - $10
- Wireless Keyboard and Mouse - $60
- Surge Protector - $10
- Ethernet Cable - $10
- Laptop (optional) - $1500
Total Cost: $1, 240 - $2, 840
Why this rocks:
- Mobility – this will work in any room assuming a power supply and an Ethernet connection are within reach of our cables (WiFi is fine, but you get better audio and video quality generally if you are plugged in). The footprint is a lot smaller for storage and movement than the Polycoms we have in the office.
- Flexibility – the cart can be used as a “projector” or sharing screen even if you aren’t using videoconference, and it’s not tied to any one room or location.
- Maintainability – Each piece can be replaced interchangeably. You can always buy a new, better webcam when the TV still works. No more buying $700 microphone pods from Polycom.
- Open – Skype? Check. Microsoft Lync? Check. Google Hangouts? Check. Facetime? Check (if you plug in a Mac Laptop). Whatever new hipster videoconferencing comes out in three months? Check.
Cables: Make sure your laptop has a port for the HDMI cable, which will enable you to connect the laptop to the TV screen for both video and audio. If it does not, there are various adaptors or other cable types you can use.