Video Conference Hardware
Hardware designed specifically for video conferencing will deliver the best quality video and audio for the software you have chosen. As the unit’s resources are not shared they can be easier to use and more reliable than computers and other units.
Cisco and Polycom are the dominant suppliers of dedicated video conference units within the health sector in New Zealand, although there are many other popular choices such as LifeSize and Vidyo. Each vendor has many different options available but they generally fall into four main categories.
Video conference unit – desktop
Desktop units are designed to be placed on a desk and used by one or two people. They have screens up to 23” in size, and are often touch screen or have a touch panel. As they are a dedicated video conference unit, they produce high quality (up to 1080 pixels) calls with excellent audio. They are not good for larger groups as the systems are designed for users sitting approximately one to two metres from the screen.
- Generally fixed camera only with some manual tilt. No zoom.
- Generally no second screen option so video and content displayed on same screen.
- Microphone built into machine so more suited for participants sitting close to the unit.
Video conference unit – room-based
Room-based units are designed to be very flexible. There is a base unit which does all the processing but the camera, screens and microphones are separate units so they can be placed around a room. As they are a dedicated video conference unit, they produce high-quality (up to 1080 pixels) calls with excellent audio. All units should be able to have a PC input for sharing content.
Other key features include:
- Cameras pan-tilt-zoom (between 4 and 12 times optical zoom). These features may be able to be controlled by the remote caller depending on the system and how the calls are connected.
- Dual screen output: The ability to connect a second output display is strongly recommended. This is ideal when content is being shared. Although a single screen can display the same information, the layouts often use only 50 percent of the screen.
- Resolution 720p & 1080p: While most modern units are able to make 1080 pixels calls, some units will have a lower resolution of 720 pixels.
- Internal bridge: All devices will support one to one video calls, but if three or more participants will be in a video conference, a 'bridge' or 'meeting room' must be used.
- Accessories: Other accessories such as additional microphones and touch panel controllers are available depending on the model selected.
Video conference unit – specialised
One common example of a specialised unit is a medical cart which is used to move the video conference unit around within a building. It may, for example, be used for bedside consultations with a remote specialist.
The medical cart holds the base unit, screen and camera but will also include other equipment including:
- wheels for manoeuvring
- height adjustable mechanism for good eye contact
- large batteries in the base of the unit so it can operate while not plugged in
- a network switch for connectivity (either wired or wireless)
- medical and non-medical peripherals can be connected.
Video conference unit – immersive
Immersive video environments often use custom-built rooms with identical chairs, furniture, general décor and lighting to create the impression of one environment. Combined with three or more cameras and screens, this allows the best possible video conference environment for group meetings. Such an approach is generally costly to set up.
Depending on the model, some specialised video conferencing units may allow additional screens, cameras and microphones to be connected.
A second screen is extremely useful if content is to be shared. This content may include medical imaging for a patient consultation or a PowerPoint presentation during an education session.
Additional pan/tilt /zoom cameras may be able to be connected. This is ideal in an emergency room situation, for example, where one camera can provide an overview of the room and a second camera can be positioned above the patient be to give a close-up view.
Most modern video conferencing units have microphones that are very effective at picking up voices and eliminating background noise. Some situations, however, such as large or busy rooms, may benefit from a second microphone.
Touch Panel Control
Touch screen controllers provide a simpler, visual way for users to operate a system. Remote controls are not always intuitive, so for people not familiar with the equipment, a video conferencing unit can be difficult to operate.
There is a large array of medical equipment suitable for telehealth stations, from manufacturers such as www.amdtelemedicine.com and www.jedmed.com. They include:
- general examination camera
- medical scopes and camera/illumination systems
- vital signs monitors
- retinal camera.
For further information or answers to specific questions about video conferencing peripherals, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Video infrastructure is another important component in video conferencing. The centralised infrastructure is generally specialist computer and video equipment which performs many important tasks such as registering devices, controlling calls and joining multiple callers together in a meeting room.
There are three broad ways to deploy a telehealth infrastructure.
- Purchase your own equipment: Large organisations, especially those on a private network, will generally choose this option. While this gives you full control, this option can require extensive capital expenditure, ongoing support, and a high level of technical expertise.
- Subscription services. For some organisations, paying a regular monthly charge for each endpoint (computer, video conferencing unit etc) is the most cost effective and scalable solution. There are providers offering this service on private networks and on the public internet, see: Connected Health – Spark Digital and Dimension Data and Vivid Solutions. Other private networks include DimensionData and Spark Digital ReadyCloud. Public internet providers include Asnet MeetNow, FaceMe, SmartPresence and SmartCloud.
- Free services: Free providers on the internet include Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts. It is important to ensure these solutions will meet the standards required for telehealth services.