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Video conferencing is a communications technology that integrates video and audio to connect users anywhere in the world as if they were in the same room. This term usually refers to communication between three or more users who are in at least two locations, rather than one-on-one communication, and it often includes multiple people at each location. Each user or group of users who are participating in a video conference typically must have a computer, a camera, a microphone, a video screen and a sound system. Another requirement is a connection to the communications system that is being used, which in the 21st century usually is the Internet but might also be a satellite-based system, a broadcast signal or other communications technology. When using video conferencing, participants can see and hear each other in real time or close to it, allowing natural face-to-face conversations and visual elements that are not possible with voice-only communications technology.
This technology is especially popular in the field of business because it allows meetings or conferences to be held without the need for all of the participants to travel to a single location, so it saves time and money. For the same reasons, it also is useful in the fields of academics and medicine. Almost any organization that holds meetings for people from different locations — no matter how far apart they are, whether across town or around the world — can make use of video conferencing.
Communications companies have been dabbling in this technology essentially since the invention of television. It was mostly impractical or limited in its use, however, before the advent of broadband Internet. Early devices often suffered from poor picture quality. Videophones, which became available in the 1970s, never became popular because they were quite expensive. With the arrival of broadband Internet in the 1990s, however, users could engage in video conferencing through their home computers simply by buying webcams and the appropriate programs.
Expectations for the Future
It is expected that as video and audio communication technologies continue to improve, the experience of video conferencing will become increasingly natural and intuitive to a wider range of users. Some people believe that video conferencing and similar technologies eventually will allow the creation of virtual cities — online spaces where people work together without the constraint of geographic proximity. It is hoped that this might decrease urban congestion and help the environment by making it possible for workers who live in the suburbs to avoid commuting to work.