Scientist, writer, audiophile and smartphone addict, Will Apse, loves explaining tech issues in a way that anyone can understand.
A video conference can be a small number of people sitting at their PC's and communicating via simple and inexpensive USB web cams on services like Skype, Yahoo Messenger or Microsoft Live Messenger.
Alternatively, it could be a large audience participating in an online training seminar.
Most businesses will use online conferencing routinely, at all scales, to keep travel costs down and interaction levels across an enterprise high.
For business users, more secure services like Webex or GotoMeeting can also be used with inexpensive USB hardware.
This page looks at the kinds of cameras that will make video conferencing work without a huge outlay or specialist technical knowledge.
Which Cameras are Compatible with which Conferencing Services?
The most well known, business orientated, conferencing services are Cisco's WebEx and Adobe Connect- both offer highly professional solutions for around $30 a month. Skype Group video calling at around $8 a month is becoming an increasingly attractive service.
Adobe make no recommendations for cameras. They simply emphasize that any video camera that can connect to a PC via USB should work with their service. WebEx offer a long list of cameras that they have tested and found compatible- but they, too, say that any USB camera should integrate with their system.
Skype certify certain video cameras but users find almost all Windows or Mac compatible video cameras work well.
It is worth remembering that Logitech offer their own very easy to use video conferencing software. For many, users this is all you will need. Just don't expect to share documents.
Not everyone will rush to Google's Chromebox system, so here are the best plug and play conference cameras for everyone else.
An extra camera will help with a Chromebox set up, too.
HD Webcam Pro from Logitech
This will record in 1080p High definition at its highest resolution- ideal for You Tube offerings. For video conferences, it offers a still very respectable 720p definition. The self focusing Carl Zeiss lens and intelligent light correction delivers some of the best live video around. The wide angle facility is a big plus for video conferencing.
If you are using this on top of your PC, the built in microphones will deliver very good sound. It will also pick up off screen contributors but If you planning on moving around or using it in a room with multiple participants, Bluetooth headsets or a quality USB microphone like the Blue Microphones Yeti, will improve your capabilities.
It works with Skype, Yahoo Messenger and Microsoft Live Messenger as as well as Webex or Adobe Connect.
QuickCam Orbit from Logitech
The greatest advantage of the Quickcam is that it can track movement and keep your face screen centered, even if you are very animated. This is ideal for presentations and people who just get excited about their subject!
The lens is a genuinely high quality Carl Zeiss product and the HD video exceptionally clear.
The software package is extensive and can take care of basic video conferencing needs without getting you involved in monthly paid services.
LifeCam Cinema from Microsoft
This is not the newest technology but it is still one of the successful HD cameras around. It clips to your monitor, plugs into a PC via USB and is ready to use.
It has a simple button to start a Windows Live call and this is probably the most popular product for use with that service.
The shell is robust aluminum and you get good results at 720p resolution even if the light is not great.
Simple Adjustable USB Camera
This camera from IpeVo is most often used as a classroom aid, similar to a document camera. In a conference setting, it can be very easily set up to provide a view of a white board or presentation.
It has plug and play compatibility with Windows or Mac.
Broadcast WiFi Webcam for Apple Devices
If you are tired of wires, a WiFi, portable webcam might be the perfect option.
This one from Logitech has appealing features including a carry case that doubles as a stand, full integration with Ustream broadcasting and simple controls that will not trip you up as you speak.
It works with an iPhone, iPad or Mac and can use the cameras on any of these devices to create dual-view broadcasts (speaker and room, for example).
Ustream is an increasingly popular. inexpensive and problem-free way to broadcast.
The only issue can be the strength of your WiFi signal.
Best Conference Camera for Use with Skype and an HDTV?
The Logitech TV Cam HD is purpose made for Skype video conferencing and hooks up easily via HDMI imputs.
A better, although more expensive alternative is from Tely Labs. No computer is involved and connection is direct to the TV via HDMI.
You can fill your onscreen address book with the remote and block calls that you don't want.
Audio and video are very good indeed even in low light and with participants scattered around the room.
A less expensive alternative is the TouchCam, below.
Inexpensive Skype TouchCam 720p
The video images from this camera are a little less sharp than most people would like but the sound is excellent. The dual microphones will pick up even faint conversation at a distance.
It was the first video camera to be certified with Skype but can be used with all the main video conferencing services and chat services from Yahoo Messenger to Google Talk.
Pan, Tilt and Zoom Conference Camera
Sony have recently upgraded their top end PTZ EVI conferencing camera to HD.
This is a major investment for any company at more than four thousand dollars but it will gave you state of the art video with many refinements.
WebEx Compatible Cameras
This is the list of cameras WebEx say have been fully tested for use with Windows Meeting at the site below. They are quick to point out though, that almost any video camera that connects via USB or parallel port to your computer should work. support.webex.com/
Adobe don't test individual cameras for compatibilty but again emphasise that any USB video camera should work. http://kb2.adobe.com/cps/164/tn_16453.html
Skype Group Video Calls for Business
Up to 10 people can use Skype Video calling for business as long as one member has a subscription. This is the hardware that they recommend:
Google Chromebox Online Conferencing
New in 2014 is an inexpensive bundle from Google that aims to shake up the videoconferencing market.
The 'Chromebox for Meetings' bundle includes an HD camera, a speaker, microphone and the Chromebox itself which acts as a hub. All the components are WiFi-enabled making set up fast and convenient. HDMI and USB 3.0 ports offer alternative ways to hook up.
You will need an HDTV and someone with a similar set up at the other end.
This looks like a game changer, reducing costs to the point that even the smallest businesses can utilize videoconferencing.
The Asus Chromebox has Core i7 chip with plenty of RAM. This will mean little or no lag due to video processing in any location with a quality internet connection. It should even handle 4K.