Blewbury Croquet Club set up a group to look at internal communications. With the sudden increase of interest in Video Conferencing during the coronavirus pandemic it seemed useful for the group to see what video conferencing solutions are available and affordable. Three very important factors are video quality, audio quality and pricing all of which could change at any time so this report was only correct on the day it was published. With the recent increased use of these tools the press have picked up on some security concerns. We are not aware of major security problems with any of these tools. In all cases where costs are mentioned these are per month. All the browser based tools worked well on Chrome, and on the latest version of Edge (v79 and later – which has not been generally released in the UK yet but is available for download) and most worked on Firefox.
The four of us tested: BlueJeans, Google Duo, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Skype, Webex, WhatsApp and Zoom. We will comment on each one and then make recommendations at the end. We did not try MS Teams because we did not find a way to install it and it has a reputation to be hard to install.
Tools with many features
Five tools had many features and seemed to be well suited for desktop devices as well as phones and tablets and all had a rather similar look and feel. They all offered the ability to view everybody side by side or to just show the speaker large and will others as small images. An interesting feature that some products have is the support of breakout rooms. The idea is that all, or some, participants can spend part of the meeting in small groups. These breakout sessions are normally to allow people to talk within a smaller subgroup or to work on problems in parallel and then someone reports back to the main meeting when everybody has returned. One of us has also used them successfully in conjunction with an online bridge program.
We found relatively poor video and the audio was so bad that natural conversations were impossible. There is no free version so it appears to be of no interest today. The documentation mentions breakout rooms.
This tool might be better in the next classification of simple tools. It supports up to 10 users with good audio and visual quality. It offers screen sharing but it is not convenient to use. It has no benefits over Webex. It does not support breakout rooms.
The free version is severely restricted to allowing meetings for up to 40minutes and up to 4 people. The entry level cost of £10 a month is a little less than Zoom and for £13 you can record and generate transcripts which might be useful for secretaries. The audio and video quality are comparable to Zoom. Breakout rooms are supported but in a companion product GoToTraining which is much more expensive.
The major benefit of Webex is that it is free for up to 100 people for meetings of unlimited duration. The audio, video and screen sharing facilities are almost as good as Zoom. The documentation suggests that it may support breakout rooms but we were unable to discover how to do it in the free product.
When tested this did have the best audio and video quality. The only problem is that it is not free unless you are either having a 1:1 meeting or can fit your meeting into a forty minute time slot. For longer meetings or with more people it costs you £12 and for £16 you can generate transcripts of a meeting. This supports breakout rooms – even in the free version.
Used from a web browser you can, today, only call one person. From a mobile app it works well and groups can be defined of up to twelve people allowing you to call everyone in that group. It claims to offer screen sharing but we did not test it. Audio and visual quality were both good.
When we tested Skype, we had considerable difficulty in getting all four of the participants connected to the meeting. One person needs to invite others to join the meeting, which is not as convenient as having each participant clicking on a link to join the meeting. We also experienced poor audio and video quality.
This is limited to four people but if you are already a WhatsApp user it is very easy to use and again has good visual quality. It is however very susceptible to background noise and does not allow you to use web.whatsapp.com to link to a desktop.
- If someone in the group you wish to communicate with has a Zoom or GoToMeeting licence then as these tools both work well and probably provide a better experience than Webex then use that tool.
- If you need breakout rooms then the only affordable possibility appears to be Zoom.
- If your meetings are 1-1 or can be kept down to 40 minutes then use the free Zoom license.
- For a good free solution for up to 100 people with good audio and video choose Webex.
- For a small group of up to 12 and not confined to the desktop Google Duo works well.
- If you are in a small WhatsApp group and again not confined to the desktop then it is easy to make a video call but background noise can be a problem.
Peter Allan, Steve Fisher, Joe King, David Vincent – 13 Apr 2020