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Endpoints

Posted on Apr 1, 2024 by
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What is an Endpoint?

An endpoint in the realm of videoconferencing is a term that many on the user side—like doctors, nurses, patients, and office staff—may encounter, though they might not be fully aware of all the technological elements involved in their virtual meetings. Essentially, an endpoint is a networking node that can initiate and participate in a videoconferencing call with another similar node. On a more practical level, it includes the equipment like the CODEC, camera, and display used during a video call.

The CODEC stands for coder-decoder. It's the backstage tech wizard that processes the audiovisual content during a videoconferencing session. As the heart of the endpoint, the CODEC captures video from the camera and routes it to the screen, as well as handling audio and video from other devices, communicating with the core network infrastructure, or establishing a connection with other endpoints. CODECs vary in size and design, ranging from large, computer-like devices to compact, integrated systems.

Cameras for videoconferencing are tethered to the CODECs, capturing the visual feed that's broadcast to other systems and displayed on the local screen—also known as the "near end." There are principally two types of cameras: fixed and PTZ, or pan-tilt-zoom. Fixed cameras are static and have to be manually adjusted to change the viewing angle, often being incorporated in screens or desktop units. They usually have a broad lens and may have different levels of zoom capability. In contrast, PTZ cameras can be remotely controlled, allowing users from a distant location, or "far end," to adjust the camera's direction.

With respect to displays, there is a vast diversity of sizes, resolutions, and designs. Videoconferencing hardware producers might offer proprietary monitors with some systems, or allow for the integration of third-party displays. The selection of a monitor is typically influenced by the manufacturer's advice, the dimensions and setup of the room or cart, and available funds.

Types of Endpoints

Endpoints in videoconferencing come in various forms to accommodate different audiences and use cases. The terminology used by manufacturers to define their products can vary, sometimes leading to confusion. The following are generalized descriptions of common endpoint types:

Mobile and Desktop Software

Devices like tablets and smartphones use apps that allow them to connect and communicate with traditional videoconferencing systems. These applications are versions of the vendors’ software-based solutions that work on similar principles. For additional information on the software used, please see the Desktop Video Applications toolkit.

Video Phone

Under the video phone category fall devices that are specifically designed to handle both phone calls and videoconferencing. They are distinct from smartphones or mobile PCs that run software applications. Video phones are compact, and typically feature relatively small screens and cameras with limited capabilities, like basic or digital zoom, but without pan or tilt functions. They also usually lack the option to connect to other video sources or serial data devices.

Desktop Systems

Separate from software solutions, stand-alone desktop units are integrated videoconferencing systems that combine a display, camera, and an inbuilt CODEC. While their screen sizes might be similar to video phones, these desktop systems can often double as a secondary computer monitor. Camera functions are similar to those on video phones, with limited movement but sometimes with zoom features. Certain models might also offer connections for additional video sources or devices depending on the manufacturer.

Room Systems – Cart or Fixed Installations

When people think of videoconferencing, they often envision room-based systems, which may include separate or integrated CODECs and cameras, sometimes with sophisticated pan-tilt-zoom capabilities. These units often provide a range of input options, though these can vary between manufacturers.

Room systems can be mounted in several ways, such as on walls, on stationary stands, or on mobile carts. These carts may offer additional functionalities like Uninterruptible Power Supplies, adjustable writing surfaces, flexible screen mounts, and extra ports for peripherals.

Robotic and Remote-Controlled Systems

Robotic videoconferencing platforms have sparked considerable interest thanks to their ability to be guided remotely, allowing a person to navigate a space while sustaining a video link. The interfaces to control these motorized systems range from web applications to dedicated PC software and hardware controls. Web interfaces offer flexibility in control points, while PC-based systems with hardware give a more tactile experience.

However, such robotic systems do not currently conform to standard videoconferencing protocols and cannot be controlled by industry-standard room-based systems. This means they are not compatible with pre-existing infrastructures unless they share the same proprietary control systems.

Telepresence

The term 'telepresence' is used variably across the tech industry: sometimes to refer to high-definition systems with large monitors, other times for mobile platforms. Technically, telepresence often refers to ultra-high-definition installations that give a sense of physical presence, typically using multiple monitors and cameras to create an immersive meeting environment. These setups usually occupy dedicated spaces and can link to other systems to form comprehensive, high-bandwidth conference areas, enabling content sharing and multiple video inputs.

While all videoconferencing solutions could technically be described as offering telepresence, the industry is skewing towards larger and more complex setups. As the term is still being solidified, some ambiguity may exist in the market for the time being.

Support Infrastructure

This toolkit mainly addresses videoconferencing endpoints, yet it is essential to acknowledge the necessary hardware components that are typically part of a comprehensive videoconferencing system. These components, often critical for any advanced videoconferencing setup, can be managed internally within an organization or through third-party services that provide hosting and support.

Gatekeepers

A gatekeeper’s role in a videoconferencing environment may differ by product but it usually includes several core functions – translating addresses, controlling admissions and bandwidth, authenticating users, and managing zones. Address translation simplifies calling by assigning user-friendly aliases to endpoints, while admission and bandwidth management regulate the number of calls and bandwidth distribution, respectively. Zone management oversees how devices within a singular gatekeeper’s purview communicate with one another or different zones.

Multipoint Control Units (MCUs)

MCUs, often called bridges, are critical when connecting multiple videoconferencing endpoints into a single session. They are traditionally necessary for multi-party conferences unless an endpoint has integrated bridging capability, which might support several simultaneous connections.

Gateways

Although most videoconferencing manufacturers adhere to common standards, cross-communications between different brands can present challenges due to evolving standards and heterogeneous implementations of optional features. Gateways facilitate these interactions by linking and converting signals (transcoding) across various devices, including endpoints, MCUs, and network peripherals.

Proxies

Proxies come into play when videoconferencing crosses network boundaries, which can occur when connecting multiple organizations or linking internet-based endpoints to private networks. They function at the network edge, smoothing out the communication for endpoints, gateways, and gatekeepers by navigating through potential network-related complexities.

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