Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a series on the importance of audio in video conferencing. To view Part 1 of the series, click here. To view The Shower Test, the next installment in the Dolby Audio Sound Test, click here.
With the fast-paced nature of today’s workforce, it can be easy to take conferencing calling for granted. In fact, it’s so ubiquitous among businesses that it can be hard to believe that the technology itself is only a little over 100 years old.
The First Conference Call
The telephone was first invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, and it was the first time that people thousands of miles apart could communicate in real-time. However, it took another eight decades to invent the conference call we think of today when we need to communicate with multiple people in a number of locations.
While we often think of a “conference call” as a way to dial in multiple people from different lines, the term, by definition, is a telephone call in which one person talks to several people at the same time. As a result, the first conference call took place in 1915 when Alexander Graham Bell phoned San Francisco from New York for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. During this conference call, a string of dignitaries spoke including President Woodrow Wilson from the White House.
The First Video Call
For the next several decades, the popularity of telephones grew, but teleconferencing was still out of the norm. It was not seen in action again until American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) created the Picturephone and debuted it at the 1964 World Fair. Using this phone, callers in New York spoke with park visitors in Disneyland, allowing multiple people to be on the call at once.
With a small screen connected to the phone, both visual and audio information was sent on three phone lines simultaneously with a new picture loading every two seconds. This was the first known attempt at not only conference calling, but video calling too. Intended for businesses interested in saving travel expenses by facilitating virtual meetings, the technology worked but was too expensive for widespread adoption.
Conference Calling Explodes
Then, in the 1970s, digital communications brought about a revolution in teleconferencing services. With video an added expense, focus settled on transmitting audio across multiple phone lines so people in various places could meet simultaneously. The invention of microprocessors, which allowed for digital technology to take the sound of your voice, break it down into binary numbers, and process it as code, resulted in a myriad of improvements in audio quality.
Because audio was now able to be transferred as code, voices were restored to their original quality on the receiving end, meaning that conference calls were clearer with more background noise filtered out. This invention also increased conference call capacity and decreased the cost per caller, so audio conferencing became more attainable for a larger number of businesses.
Introducing Video into Conference Calls
Audio continued to improve in the late twentieth century, but the Internet was the final catalyst to push conference calling forward. As productivity and interaction became even more important, web conferencing focused on enhancing an audio call with a shared presentation feature whereby participants could view the same material. By showing the same spreadsheet or slides to all participants, this feature brought participants together for shared collaboration.
On the other hand, video technology also became prevalent as companies focused on the human connection. Whereas web conferencing was great for large presentations, video conferencing became the ideal scenario for small groups and interactive collaboration.
The Focus Becomes Video
With the expansion of the Internet, increased speeds, and better cameras, video conferencing became the way of the world, with web conferencing features included in the service. Businesses began to use it for easier and quicker interaction amongst employees in different locations, and to reduce the need to travel on a regular basis.
But, as video became more widespread, most video conferencing companies shifted to improving the quality of the video, reducing lag, and manufacturing high-end hardware. Unfortunately, audio took a backseat, resulting in a scenario where even calls with excellent video capabilities were affected by background noise, inconsistent voice volumes, and a lack of spatial awareness.
However, here at BlueJeans, our focus has always been on providing the best possible meeting experience. We know that powerful video requires superior audio, which is why we’ve teamed with Dolby to provide best-in-class sound and to eliminate the frustrations that come with traditional video meetings. With BlueJeans with Dolby Voice, background noises are suppressed, voice volume remains constant amongst attendees, and natural conversation flows. And we want to prove it to you.
In our last video, Chief Product Officer Mark Strassman demonstrated the difference that Dolby audio makes when using a noisy hair dryer in the background. In his latest experiment, he shows us how that same audio holds up when confronted with a new type of noise: a running shower.
It’s remarkable how easily a video call can be completed when only the things that matter get transmitted to the other meeting attendees. Stay tuned as we continue to explore the importance of audio, and for Mark’s next battle with background noise.