One of the most common questions I get from companies evaluating Adobe Connect is how much bandwidth it uses. This is a tricky question, because the amount of bandwidth consumed by a meeting is entirely dependent on what is actually being done in the meeting at any given time. Now, Connect is pretty darn good at efficiently managing bandwidth, but if you're inviting people into a meeting room and you have no idea what their bandwidth might be like (think a public webinar/class where attendees could have different levels of Internet connectivity), following some best practices is always a good idea.
Before we get into some tips, keep in mind that streaming activities (screen sharing, webcam video, on-demand video, etc.) generally incur higher bandwidth.
So without further ado, my top 8 tips on optimizing bandwidth usage in a meeting:
- Don't screen share your PowerPoint (or PDFs).
I know that it's not always practical or feasible to upload your PowerPoint slides into the Share pod (or to your Content Library), but you can gain some significant bandwidth savings by sharing PowerPoint content this way. Each slide from your uploaded PowerPoint deck gets compressed/converted to a Flash SWF. The meeting client pre-fetches the slides via progressive download as you're going through the slides. This means that if a participant has a temporary blip in their network, they're unlikely to see an adverse effect on their meeting experience. BONUS: with a converted PowerPoint, you get access to the Sidebar, which lets you jump to specific slides, access your speaker notes, and more.
- Lower your screen resolution
If you need to share your desktop, try to lower your screen resolution - I try to stick to 1024x768 whenever possible. This simple step can greatly reduce the amount of bandwidth consumed by screen sharing. When you initiate screen sharing, Adobe Connect continuously takes a snapshot of your desktop, multiple times a second, and pushes it out to your meeting participants as a constant stream. While this simplistic description of screen sharing may not be entirely accurate in the technical details, I think it's easy to see how a larger shared image would be larger in size, and hence require more bandwidth to upload/download. For example, a display set to 1280x1024 contains 67% more pixels than a display set to 1024x768, which ultimately means higher bandwidth. Note that the increased bandwidth requirement may also mean higher latency, both in terms of the shared images being sent to the Connect server, and in terms of these images being pushed out to participants. BONUS: in most cases, sharing your desktop at a lower resolution will also translate into a cleaner, higher quality image for your participants.
- Clean up your desktop
We all know your kids (or pets) are super cute (mine are!), and that picture you took on your last vacation looks just like a postcard, but if you're planning to do some screen sharing, things will go much better if you go replace your desktop wallpaper with a standard colour background. While you're at it, you may as well go ahead and clean up any documents/shortcuts on your desktop. If you're the 'sweep under the rug' type of person like me, you can either create a folder on your desktop and drag everything else into that folder, or use an app like Desktopple (Mac - donationware) or Fences (PC- free). BONUS: You'll impress your colleagues and friends with your sparkling clean desktop.
- Adjust your screen sharing quality
Under the Meeting menu > Preferences > Screen Share in the Preferences panel, you have the option of selecting the quality and frame rate for screen sharing (low, medium, high). High quality and high frame rate = higher bandwidth. Low quality and low frame rate = lower bandwidth. The default is 'Medium' for both variables and should work for most people. Note that the actual values used for these settings will depend on the room bandwidth preference. Also, this is a sticky/persistent setting in a meeting room (meaning you only have to set it once) and is even inherited via a template.
- Adjust your room bandwidth preferences
Under the Meeting menu > Preferences > Room Bandwidth in the Preferences panel, you have the option of selecting LAN, DSL/Cable or Modem. The setting you choose impacts the server-side settings used for screen sharing and video sharing. DSL/Cable is a good option if you're not sure what type of connectivity your attendees will have. Also, this is a sticky setting in a meeting room and is even inherited via a template.
- Adjust your camera video quality settings
Adobe Connect's new Preferences panel (Meeting menu > Preferences > Video) lets you set your video quality preference. There are four settings (Low, Medium, Standard, High), and your preference can be changed at any time. So if you are planning on having lots of people sharing their cameras at once, you can set the quality to low, since you'll likely see smaller video tiles anyway. If you decide to just have one large video stream, you can increase the quality to standard or high. Note that these quality settings correspond to server-side settings for frame size, frame rate, and image quality. These settings are easily customized by on-premise customers. Also, this is a sticky setting in a meeting room and is even inherited via a template.
Another quick note on live video quality - good lighting is probably the most critical factor when it comes to webcam video quality. In most cases, webcams do not have high-end lenses or sensors required to perform well in low light conditions. With poor lighting, this basically translates to higher pixelation in the video image. For cameras, I've had great experience with the Logitech Orbit AF and the Logitech Quickcam C910 models.
- Pause your camera
Sharing your video is great. I encourage everyone that I meet with to turn on their webcam. For virtual classrooms or one-to-many sessions, seeing a live video of the presenter adds tremendously to participant engagement. However, I'd say that most of the time, you'd be OK to pause your camera (mouse over your camera stream and click the pause icon on the bottom-right corner of the image). If you're planning on screen sharing or streaming an on-demand video, I always recommend pausing your video for the duration. Again, this reduces the overall bandwidth/connectivity requirements and should result in a better experience for lower bandwidth users. BONUS: If you're an attendee on a low bandwidth connection, you can choose to pause other people's cameras too (for yourself only, not for everyone else). Especially handy if you're connected to the Internet using a data card or mi-fi and you don't have an unlimited data plan.
- Encode your videos properly
Admittedly, video encoding is more art than science, but there are quite a few guiding principles to help you ensure the best experience possible when sharing an on-demand video clip. You can read my tips on encoding video here. In most cases, you should be able to get acceptable quality video for under 500kbps. One common mistake I often see is people encoding their video with a large frame size (e.g. 640x480), but when they play back the video in Connect, the Share pod is way smaller than the actual frame size of the video. In this case, you're basically wasting bandwidth. With the Camera & Voice pod, Connect performs some dynamic downscaling of smaller, tiled video streams to minimize bandwidth consumption, but this is not the case with on-demand video. If you encode a video at 1280x720, 3mbps, you'll use the same bandwidth regardless of whether you've actually sized the Share pod to 1280x720 or 320x240.