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How are web conferencing and video conferencing different?

The differences in web conferencing vs. video conferencing have diminished over time. Learn how technology advancements have led to the convergence of these two tools.

In a scene from the NBC sitcom The Office, office administrator Pam keeps her boss distracted by telling him that corporate needs him to find the differences between two pictures. The joke is that they are both the same picture.

That's essentially how web conferencing and video conferencing are today. If you compare the products feature by feature, they are virtually indistinguishable. All serious web conferencing offerings now include video, and all video conferencing offerings include screen sharing.

The only real difference between web conferencing and video conferencing products is their origins. In the early days of the internet, video conferencing simply wasn't viable over IP. Video required more bandwidth than the typical internet connection provided, as well as more computing power than the typical PC offered. As a result, early video conferencing was run over a separate network and used specialized computing hardware.

Sharing content on early video conferencing devices was not always available, and its early implementations were difficult. Today, we run our video apps on the same PCs, laptops and other devices on which we keep our content. Sharing a screen from a desktop while using a desktop video app is the norm. In meeting rooms, the current generation of IP-connected video devices can easily connect to personal devices and share content via USB connections or Wi-Fi.

Early web conferencing was designed to efficiently use as little bandwidth and PC resources as possible. Typical web conferencing attendees would dial into a phone conference line for audio while watching the presentation on their computer. Even simple audio over IP was a lot to ask for in those days. As bandwidth and processing power have increased over the decades, these platforms added audio and video as a response to market pressure and customer requests.

Today, the terms web conferencing and video conferencing are basically interchangeable. There was a general feeling for some time that the video in web conferencing offerings was weak, whether it was lower resolution, less error resiliency or even issues like lip sync being off.

Today, most offerings have ironed these issues out, and traditional web conferencing platforms are now putting video quality first. Perhaps it's time to retire the term web conferencing and just call everything video.

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