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Comparison of major video conferencing software options
Video conferencing tools connect individuals and businesses across offices and time zones. These are the top 5 video conferencing tools for business use. For a free, custom list of video conferencing software recommendations based on your company’s needs, use our Product Selection Tool at the top of the page.
|Product||HIPAA compliance||File Sharing Tools||Messaging||Whiteboards & Annotations|
|Yes||with G Suite||with G Suite||No|
Table of Contents
- What is video conferencing software?
- Major features of video conferencing solutions
- The top video conferencing software articles and reviews
- Considerations for buying video conferencing services
- Current trends and innovations
- Choosing the best video conferencing software for your business
What is video conferencing software?
Video conferencing software is any software product that connects two or more people in a video and audio-enabled call. The purpose of this software is to give the impression that you are in a face-to-face meeting, even if you’re meeting from across the globe.
The idea of video conferencing has been around nearly as long as the first telephone, but the first commercially available video conferencing tools for businesses came onto the market in 1964, followed in the next three decades by units available for individual consumers. And most businesses and consumers couldn’t afford the investment in the hardware, much less the price of each individual call.
The first decade of the 2000s boosted the video call market with innovations in:
- Widely available high speed internet connections
- Smart phones
- Webcam inclusion in PCs and laptops
- Proliferation of online video technology and equipment due to YouTube and other online streaming platforms
Because of these changes in technology, video conferencing tools like Skype and FaceTime quickly became common household apps, followed closely by video conferencing software and hardware for businesses of all sizes.
Today, video calling is used by nearly everyone. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to shift their non-essential workforce to a work from home model. This move to remote work across the globe caused a sharp usage increase across video and audio conferencing platforms.
Video conferencing tools had a record week from March 14-21, 2020, with over 62 million downloads. Some apps experienced 14-27 times more downloads that week than a normal week. In addition to business usage, schools, individual families, yoga studios, book clubs, and nearly all other sectors of life continued to meet digitally.
Major features of video conferencing solutions
Without this feature, a video conference would just be a telephone call. Video calling software provides two or more people with a live video and audio stream over the internet. Users access the video feed via a URL link or when one person submits a call request to another.
Video calls are used for calls between two people and can scale for groups into the thousands. Many video conferencing software providers charge extra for video feeds for large group events—especially if more than one participant speaks to the group—or for extras like breakout sessions and recordings for later use.
In addition to video calling, many video conferencing software tools provide the option to hold audio-only conversations via voice over internet protocol (VoIP) or private branch exchange (PBX) connections. These features provide inexpensive telephone services for just a few employees, or they can scale to thousands of participants on the phone call.
Like video calls, digital audio calls are limited only by the participants’ internet speeds. If several callers attempt to connect to the service at a time, the company’s internet service may not support the load, but most businesses have the bandwidth to support hundreds of simultaneous calls.
The explosion video meetings over various apps during the COVID-19 pandemic was a boon for internet pranksters and hackers. Zoom and several other well-known conferencing apps fell under scrutiny for security flaws that allowed hackers of all skill levels to recreate the randomly-generated meeting codes and barge in on meetings. Such vulnerabilities caused many video conferencing tools to refocus their efforts on security and beef up current offerings, including:
- End to end encryption for calls and conferences
- Secure storage of call recordings, shared documents, and other sensitive assets
- Password-protected meetings
- HIPAA compliance for some tools
Whiteboard and annotations
As virtual meetings via video conference quickly replace in-person meetings, the need for visual aids has grown. Many of us are used to drawing plans on a sheet of paper, scribbling on glass conference room walls, or drawing workflows on whiteboards to illustrate our points. Digital whiteboards and annotation features give meeting attendees the same tools—right on-screen.
Perhaps the most helpful of the in-app presentation tools is the ability to screen share during a video meeting. In a screen share, the presenter can choose to show their entire desktop, a single browser window, or a group of documents to the group.
However, screen share features come in varying degrees of sophistication. Some always show the presenter’s current window or desktop, while others allow the user to choose which browser window to show, excluding any desktop notifications or other open windows.
It’s vital for each user to be familiar with how screen sharing features work. This can save users from accidentally sharing the job application they’ve mostly filled out, broadcasting text messages from friends or family to the group, or accidentally exposing sensitive company information to clients.
Chats and messaging
Many video conferencing software options have morphed from simple communication tools to full-blown collaboration platforms. Often these tools also include in-app messaging that users can access whether or not they’re in a phone call.
In-call chat features are useful for asking questions during a webinar, providing commentary on a speaker’s slides without interrupting the speaker’s flow, and holding private side-discussions during meetings.
The top video conferencing software articles and reviews
- The Best HIPAA Compliant Video Conferencing Tools for Telehealth
- The Best Zoom Alternatives for Your Business
- Webex vs. GoToMeeting: A Virtual Conferencing Software Comparison
- A Short Guide to Video Conferencing Etiquette
- Zoom vs. Skype: Which Is Right For You?
Considerations for buying video conferencing services
Small businesses need video conferencing software that keeps employees connected just as much as their larger counterparts. These tools provide the flexibility and agility for meetings and online events that small businesses need.
Classes and courses
Many small businesses bring in supplemental income or run their entire businesses through online classes and courses. If your company needs a platform to host online courses or connect with students, you’ll want to check that the online meeting software options you research include call recordings, the ability to present to audiences of multiple participants, and the ability to have someone other than the speaker present their screen to the audience.
Small businesses should be just as concerned about security as their enterprise peers. Video conferencing security features you should look for include:
- Password protected meetings
- Encrypted meetings
- Encrypted meeting recordings and messaging systems
- Database protection and disaster recovery plans like redundancies
Any organization that conducts a good percentage of its business digitally should research their software to ensure security protocols are in place to protect against data theft.
Free vs. paid plans
Free is great, until a free product doesn’t include a tool that you need to conduct business. Most free video conferencing tools limit the number of users who can join any one call, the length of time a call stays connected, storage space for documents and digital assets, or a combination of these.
Paid plans will often provide more features, increased participant counts, longer call times, and expanded storage space. A key step in the research process is to compare video conferencing tools side by side to understand the features included at every level in the pricing structure.
Enterprise companies use video conferencing software to connect employees across time zones and within the same office. These tools increase communication speed and keep large organizations running smoothly.
Equipment and hardware
Enterprise businesses often have at least one central headquarters building, and a lot of that space is used for meeting and conference rooms. Companies purchase video conferencing hardware to install in common meeting rooms where attendees can all appear on a call without individual laptops.
If your company is considering purchasing video conferencing equipment, look for webcams, video displays (TVs), phone conferencing speakers, and microphones. You can often lease or purchase these items directly from the video conferencing software provider, but it may make more sense to purchase the equipment outright, especially if you have a dedicated IT department to manage the care and upkeep on the equipment.
Video conferencing software is part of the digital revolution. Perhaps the greatest innovation this software provides is an entirely digital method of communication, which means it comes at a lower cost. Companies who formerly paid for a different phone line for each employee can now scale their digital phone calls from a single service plan.
Many video conferencing companies also offer voice over internet protocol (VoIP) tools that give employees a way to connect to customers and clients directly from their computer. Look for video conferencing systems with VoIP tools that integrate with your current CRM, email, ERP, or HR software for a fully-integrated system.
Current trends and innovations
The COVID-19 pandemic—and subsequent work from home measures implemented by companies—caused a spike in video conferencing software implementation. But before that, video conferencing tools experienced an upward trend over the course of the 2010s due to an increased number of companies moving to remote work.
A booming economy, increased access to reliable high-speed internet, higher costs of living in tech-hub urban core neighborhoods, and low unemployment rates have shifted our collective business mindset about how office work should look. Companies have become more tolerant of work from home and remote working conditions and have found that remote employees also provide cost savings.
Once one team member moves to remote work, companies find themselves looking for video conferencing solutions. Free video conferencing solutions may be enough to make a few remote workers feel included. Eventually, many companies will need to look for paid solutions to ensure meeting security.
Telemedicine is increasingly offered by health care plans and individual providers. While there are dedicated telemedicine tools available as best-of-breed software or included in a health insurance patient portal, HIPAA-compliant video conferencing software can be used to give patients access to their doctors from afar.
HIPAA-compliant video conferencing tools have increased security features that keep patient information safe and confidential. These features include:
- Password protected meetings and recordings
- Encrypted meetings
- Digital waiting rooms that give medical professionals control over who enters the meeting
- Secure file sharing and chat messages
- Direct integrations with patient portal and patient communication tools.
These features give patients access to their medical care team without leaving the safety of their house, and help medical professionals further protect themselves and their communities through reduced exposures. They have also been instrumental in connecting rural or isolated communities with quality healthcare.
Whiteboards and annotations
Whiteboard and annotation features allow the meeting presenter or individual participants to take notes and visually represent key ideas for the group via a digital whiteboard. These tools have become so essential to the way we hold video calls that we find these features as a standard inclusion in most business-focused video conferencing software.
Meeting invitations, waiting rooms, and security
Secure digital meeting invites and overall meeting security have increasingly become a major feature of video conferencing software. To respond to an outbreak of zoombombing, Zoom and other major video conferencing software vendors implemented measures to limit meetings to invited guests. These include more secure meeting invitations, waiting rooms that require the host to let in each individual guest, and digital security protocols that encrypt and secure the meetings themselves.
Choosing the best video conferencing software for your business
Video conferencing software has become a common part of our business lives, but that doesn’t mean that all options are the same. Use our Product Selection Tool at the top of the page to speed up your research process. Enter your software requirements, and we’ll send you a list of 5 video conferencing software vendors that meet your needs.