If you think streaming video might eventually work for your business, here's what you'll need to get started: Internet access, conferencing software, a microphone, speakers and a video camera. The good news is, most of the hardware necessary is fairly inexpensive. Video cameras for computer use cost as little as $50, and microphones are even cheaper. Buying a headset with a built-in microphone is a good investment, because that will eliminate audio distortions. And the faster your computer and Internet connection, the better your experience with digital video will be.
There are a bunch of software options out there, the most well-known being Microsoft's NetMeeting (which comes bundled with Windows) and White Pine Software's CU-SeeMe (available for both Mac and PC). But be aware of compatibility issues, because some programs only work when the other party uses certain types of software. So ask a sales rep what the person at the other end of the connection needs to have in order to conference with you.
If setting up your own system sounds like a hassle, there are other options. With visitalk.com, PC customers are assigned free personal com-munications numbers-essentially Internet phone numbers-which are listed in a directory on the site. Members can connect to others via streaming video, voice mail or e-mail using NetMeeting or CU-SeeMe. "Videoconferencing is going to the Web," insists visitalk.com's Anne Price. "This is an option that small businesses didn't have before."
And finally, there are places that will set up your streaming-video meeting for you. Kinko's and Sprint have teamed up to provide packages with joint video-conferencing and streaming video-check out www.sprint.com/icc for details. But keep in mind that at least for now, this option tends to cost more than investing in your own system.