MeetingPoint -- An H.323 conferencing server that can link virtually any multimedia client

MeetingPoint -- An H.323 conferencing server that can link virtually any multimedia client

June 25, 2002

Multimedia conferencing is one of those stealth applications that has its roots among casual users but has since emerged as a powerful tool for corporate use. In the case of MeetingPoint from White Pine Software (the firm that gave commercial life to CU-SeeMe) videoconferencing and collaboration is made easy and reliable with a powerful software-only solution -- reliable enough to make it a prime-time player in the corporate world.

MeetingPoint 3.5 is based on the H.323 conferencing standard, which means that any H.323 client -- Microsoft NetMeeting, Intel ProShare or TeamStation, PictureTel LiveLAN, or the aforementioned White Pine CU-SeeMe -- can connect to a MeetingPoint server and take part in a videoconference.

Also, since MeetingPoint conforms to the newer H.323 conferencing standard, it can work entirely on a simpler software level -- there's no need to invest in a much more costly hardware-dependent H.320 videoconferencing system. Working in multicast format, MeetingPoint sends one stream of data over the network to be shared by multiple users.

Videoconferencing eats up a lot of bandwidth -- even in these days of 56K connections and a proliferation of T1 lines -- and MeetingPoint addresses this issue by controlling how much video and audio traffic is allowed on the network. Bandwidth controls can also be applied to individual conferences or even individual users. In addition, users can't crash a conference, as authentication services can be applied.

MeetingPoint also supports multiple servers, so conferences can be shared and outgoing data can be load balanced on the network. MeetingPoint conforms to the following standards: H.323 and CU-SeeMe communications standards, G.711 and G.723 audio standards, H.261 and H.263 video standards, T.120 data sharing standards, and H.323 management standards. Since it conforms to H.323 management standards, you can use a third-party gatekeeper for call management instead of the supplied MeetingPoint Gatekeeper.

Administration is done via a browser-based interface that is used to administer individual conferences and user access (which is stored in a separate database). In addition, user authentication, billing, and time tracking can be set up with any RADIUS authentication server. Conference and network statistics can be viewed in real time. MeetingPoint can also work in conjunction with a Web server: currently supported are Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS) on Windows NT or Apache on Sun Solaris.

MeetingPoint also gives users the ability to set up their own conferences via the Java-based MeetingPlanner, which schedules meetings and notifies participants of upcoming meetings via automatic e-mail invitation. Users can connect to multiple sites on an audio level as well, with both silence detection and background noise suppression enabled. In addition, users can choose which participant to watch and hear via the Java-based H.323 VideoSwitcher.

With a price tag between $8,995 and $15,995, MeetingPoint isn't exactly for smaller operations. But giving users the ability to videoconference over existing data networks and via the Internet -- as opposed to shelling out big bucks for airline fares -- is a compelling argument in the business world, and any corporation or university would do well to begin or continue their videoconferencing efforts with MeetingPoint.

Pros: Browser-based management; extensive control over bandwidth; RADIUS compatibility
Cons: Load balancing must be done manually

New in v4.0: MeetingPoint 4.0 includes add-on components for specialized functions including continuous presence, the ability to view multiple video windows simultaneously, and streaming media integration. Version 4.0 also includes full integration of the Labtam T.120 technology that White Pine purchased last year. This integration is said to improve the performance and scalability for data collaboration across networks. Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 5

New in v4.0.5: Support for Netscape Enterprise Web Server; can link servers in a mixed environment for large deployments with multiple servers; video switching for multipoint and H.323 environments; enhanced video, audio, and compatibility performance with H.323 endpoints; gatekeeper and gateway interoperability enhancements; improved audio with high-bandwidth T.120 connections; several new Telnet commands for client rate control, gatekeeper registration, and streaming through the GUI; improvements and enhancements to the GUI, including bandwidth and gatekeeper adjustments and new default settings; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 3

Version Reviewed: 3.5.1
Reviewed by: Kevin Reichard
Last Updated: 12/8/00
Date of Original Review: 2/16/99