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Video streaming vs. video conferencing: What is the difference?

Companies are finding that video streaming and video conferencing can serve the same purpose. That doesn't mean, however, they are interchangeable. Find out why.

At first blush, evaluating video streaming vs. video conferencing seems like an easy task. Yet, the answer has changed dramatically over the last five years, and the lines continue to blur.

In the old days, it was easy to discern the difference between the two. Video conferencing supported a dozen or so people sharing bidirectional video and audio, while video streaming only sent a one-way video/audio signal from a presenter to a large, view-only audience.

Looking at it another way, video conferencing is the virtual equivalent of being in a meeting room with a few people. Video streaming is the virtual equivalent of presenting on stage to a darkened arena where the audience wasn't seen.

Advancements in video technology have enabled both video conferencing and video streaming to vastly increase their capabilities and feature sets. This is where the lines start to blur. Some video conferencing services now support massive meetings, and they start to feel more like a streaming experience. On the flip side, some streaming services offer greater interactivity, enabling them to almost feel like a big meeting.

The technologies are blending

So, if some video meeting platforms support hundreds of attendees and some streaming platforms enable viewers to share video and audio, have they all become the same thing? Yes and no. From a technology perspective, each shares a common platform, using the same video and audio protocols to encode, transfer and decode signals going across the internet.

If some video meeting platforms support hundreds of attendees and some streaming platforms enable viewers to share video and audio, have they all become the same thing?

The difference is the implementation and experience each is intended to provide. In other words, does the service make you feel as if you were in a meeting and able to communicate the way you normally do with other participants? Or does the service make you feel as if you're in an arena presentation?

The great thing about the flexibility of today's options is that companies can use video conferencing and video streaming to support both approaches. Obviously, a three-person meeting would use video conferencing software; if the meeting had 50,000 participants, streaming would be the de facto option. But what if you want to set up a meeting with 500 people and then open it up to discussion with bidirectional video? You may have a choice between a service that supports large meetings or a service that supports interactive streams.

That said, a clear distinction can be made in the discussion of video streaming vs. video conferencing. If you want to be a host to a small group of attendees, choose video conferencing. If you want to be a presenter to a large group of viewers, then video streaming is your best option.

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