Are you in the market for a video conference system for your company? Find out which ones top our list and what else you need to consider before you sign.
Credit: ShutterstockIn today's business world, connectivity is essential. Video conference systems, in particular, help you get the full sense of the interaction. For example, seeing the subtleties of facial expressions and nonverbal communication as you speak with one another can change the entire tone of a conversation.
Video conference systems often allow anywhere from dozens to thousands of participants to join and view a presentation, or they can host small, collaborative group sessions. Many include features like screen sharing, collaborative whiteboards, and video recording for later playback to help you get the most out of your meetings.
The aim is clarity in communication and higher productivity, and these video conference services deliver on both. Here are our top picks for video conference systems.
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How We Evaluate Video Conference Services
Tom's IT Pro is owned by Purch, which is home to several websites, including Business News Daily and Top Ten Reviews. As a company, we share data and research, and such is the case with video conference systems. Overall, this gives us access to research on dozens of well-known systems.
Business News Daily and Top Ten Reviews evaluated these systems for ease of use, selection of features, quality, scalability and cost. We dug through each site's research and conducted our own into IT-specific areas, such as hosting options and API possibilities. Using all of this information, we narrowed the choice to three services suitable for small and midsize businesses.
Pros: Intuitive user interface; wide array of features; high-quality audio and video; multi-user subaccounts; open API.
Limitations: No phone support.
ClickMeeting is a cloud-based video conference system starting at $25 per month, which includes two presenters and up to 100 attendees. It offers a custom-tailored Enterprise package starting at $165 per month, which supports audiences from 500 people up to 5,000 people.
A robust selection of features makes ClickMeeting a very attractive system; from conducting polls and surveys to rebranding webinars to fit your company's image, ClickMeeting gives you vast control over how to engage with other participants. Other key features include screen sharing, private chat, chat-to-text translations, multi-user subaccounts, audio and video recording, and webinar statistics.
ClickMeeting also scored big points for its ease of use and high-quality video and audio streaming. The service is also reliable, rarely dropping out or lagging during our testing experience. While there is no phone-based customer support, ClickMeeting offers live chat support from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST, as well as email support services.
Verdict: ClickMeeting's big selection of features, easy-to-use interface and high quality make it an excellent piece of high-performance software. While its costs are higher than those of our other top picks, they remain exceptional by industry standards.
Pros: Large meeting capacity at an affordable cost; high-quality audio and video; easy-to-use interface
Limitations: 250-participant maximum
We chose Join.me as a best pick because it's incredibly intuitive to use and aesthetically easy to navigate, meaning less time training employees. Moreover, Join.me boasts strong key features such as screen sharing, webinar rebranding, one-click scheduling, and audio and video recording without breaking the bank.
Another place where Join.me scored well was customer service and tech support. We found the customer service representatives to be knowledgeable, responsive and friendly, and we came away from each conversation satisfied that our questions had been answered accurately.
Noteworthy for larger organizations is that it has a maximum audience size of 250 participants. Join.me's pricing is extremely generous, but there are systems with larger capacities out there, including ClickMeeting's Enterprise package.
Verdict: Join.me offers strong features at a high quality, as well as a decent meeting capacity, all while remaining an extremely affordable solution. It's best for small and midsize businesses that require regular group meetings.
Pros: Highly inexpensive; intuitive user interface; good-quality video and audio
Limitations: Lacks some of the bells and whistles of other systems, such as video tutorials.
Skype for Business excels most in affordability. If you're looking for a quality service with the most important features but don't want to spend a lot on a video conference system, Skype for Business delivers.
Despite the low cost of the system, you'll have access to some of the most important collaborative tools video conferencing offers. Among the key features Skype for Business offers are the integration of Microsoft Office applications, meeting notes, webinar recordings, polls and surveys, screen sharing, and whiteboards.
Verdict: Skype for Business is an inexpensive solution that doesn't skimp on the most important features; the quality is good and the service reliable. Saving you money without sacrificing the most important elements of a video conference system means Skype for Business is a great solution for small businesses on a budget.
As with any other purchase, it's important to know first what you need to get out of your video conferencing service. Different companies have different needs; for example, a large company might need to loop in dozens of participants at once, while a smaller company might only require one-on-one conferences with robust collaborative tools. Here's what you should keep in mind aside from your budget.
- Number of participants: Consider how many participants are likely to regularly sit in on these conferences. Some services will allow for a handful of participants without charging, so if you don't need to connect a lot of people, you might not need to pay much, if anything. In case you need a lot of room, though, other services specialize in connecting a large volume of users; some even allow unlimited users to join the conference. The range is wide, so knowing what you need upfront can save a lot of time and help you determine your budget.
- Ease of use: It doesn't matter how many participants you're hosting if they can't figure out how to use the software! Make sure you select a video conference service that's intuitive and easy to navigate. Otherwise, you might end up starting presentations without essential participants watching, or miss an opportunity to connect altogether.
- Types of meetings: Some of the higher-end services allow you to launch different rooms depending on the type of meeting. Do you like to host open-forum Q&As where everybody can give feedback? Are you giving a presentation or lecture and prefer other participants are muted? Know what kinds of meetings you typically host, or, if you host a variety of different meetings, look for a service that can accommodate all of your needs.
- Mobile experience: The whole point of video conferencing is to be able to connect to people remotely, and sometimes that means connecting from a mobile device. Much like with the user interface in general, you'll want to try out a video conference service on your mobile devices – both tablets and smartphones – to make sure any participants connecting through mobile will have an equally positive experience as those connecting via desktops.
- Video/audio recording: Sometimes it's good to save the highlights of a meeting for later. The video and audio recording capability is essential if you plan to make a session a teaching tool or need to reference it again later. For bad note-takers, an online archive of meetings past would be helpful. You can also save snippets of meetings for introductory or training materials for new employees.
- Screen sharing: You can greatly enhance meetings and presentations by making them more interactive, and screen sharing is a central component of keeping participants engaged. If you need to explain the finer points of a presentation or show a remote employee how to access certain documents, screen sharing can help you do that in a fraction of the time.
- Application integration: Many video conference platforms allow the integration of third-party applications, such as Microsoft PowerPoint. Sharing software that you already own within a video conference system can help you import presentations and documents. Moreover, many services have note-taking capabilities, and some allow participants to get in on the action with notes of their own. Consider which applications you need to work within your conferencing system and determine how much influence you want participants to have over a meeting.
- Customer support: It's worth your while to give the customer service line a call before deciding to partner with a company so you can get a feel for how it'll treat you. When something goes awry, you'll want a tech support line that responds quickly, accurately, and with the seriousness and respect that your business deserves.
Other Video Conference Systems
These are the other systems we considered:
BlueJeans by Arkadin
Google Video Conferencing
iMeet by PGi
Interactive Intelligence PureCloud Collaborate
Microsoft Office 365