A videoconference is a live connection between people in separate locations for the purpose of communication, usually involving audio and often text as well as video. At its simplest, videoconferencing provides transmission of static images and text between two locations. At its most sophisticated, it provides transmission of full-motion video images and high-quality audio between multiple locations.
Videoconferencing software is quickly becoming standard computer equipment. For example, Microsoft's NetMeeting is included in Windows 2000 and is also available for free download from the NetMeeting homepage. For personal use, free or inexpensive videoconference software and a digital camera afford the user easy - and cheap - live connections to distant friends and family. Although the audio and video quality of such a minimal setup is not high, the combined benefits of a video link and long-distance savings may be quite persuasive.
The tangible benefits for businesses using videoconferencing include lower travel costs and profits gained from offering videoconferencing as an aspect of customer service. The intangible benefits include the facilitation of group work among geographically distant teammates and a stronger sense of community among business contacts, both within and between companies. In terms of group work, users can chat, transfer files, share programs, send and receive graphic data, and operate computers from remote locations. On a more personal level, the face-to-face connection adds non-verbal communication to the exchange and allows participants to develop a stronger sense of familiarity with individuals they may never actually meet in the same place.
A videoconference can be thought of as a phone call with pictures - Microsoft refers to that aspect of its NetMeeting package as a "web phone" - and indications suggest that videoconferencing will some day become the primary mode of distance communication.