Looking for the best video conferencing service? Here’s a guide

We’ve got you covered for work as well as casual meetings



The Coronavirus pandemic has forced everyone indoors and companies are scrambling to adopt the work-from-home model. While larger companies deal directly with service providers under the B2B setup, individuals or smaller teams are having a hard time picking the right video conferencing service or app.

Before we get started, you need to ask yourself about your requirements. How big is your team? How well equipped is your team? Most importantly, how do you intend to use the service?

1. Zoom

Zoom is among the most popular video conferencing platforms for businesses. It is feature-rich, with various plans based on size and needs. Prices range from free for basic personal meetings to US$ 19.99/month/host for large enterprises with a minimum of 100 hosts. It’s desktop as well as mobile apps are straightforward and require bare-minimum hardware to run.

However, the service has risen to fame too soon amid the pandemic and couldn’t keep up with stringent safety as well as privacy norms. If your business deals with sensitive information that needs guaranteed protection, we’d suggest staying away from this service for now. But, it isn’t that unsafe to use and is perfect for general domestic as well as business needs.

2. Skype / Microsoft Teams

The name is synonymous with video conferencing and pioneered the industry more a decade ago. Now owned by Microsoft, it’s a robust platform that’s well integrated with other Microsoft services like Outlook and even Office. If your workflow is based on the Microsoft ecosystem, this should be your go-to option. However, Skype is limited inherently and recommended for individual or casual meetings with friends and family.

For work or businesses, Microsoft Teams is a collaborating tool like Slack that intends to replace emails and make workplace connectivity even more streamlined. You can add up to 100 participants in one call and that’ll be soon upgraded to 250 in the coming weeks. Both the services have free as well as paid plans depending on the requirement.

3. Google Hangouts / Google Meet

Just like Microsoft’s offering, Google Hangouts has been around for a long time and the go-to option for many. It was designed to offer group video calling, but for domestic or casual use. It’s also deeply integrated into Google’s ecosystem of services and often competes against the companies another offering — Google Duo.

For work or business-related usage, Google was quick to launch Google Meet. In simpler terms, it’s an upgraded version of Google Hangouts and can accommodate up to 100 users at once and has both, paid as well as free plans. However, it’s more generous than Zoom and gives free users a 60-minute usage window than just 40.

4. Facebook Messenger Rooms:

While every tech giant is going after the video-conferencing trend, Facebook felt left out as well and debuted a feature called Messenger Rooms. It allows up to 50 people to take part in a video chat, even if they don’t have Facebook accounts. In line with Facebook’s history with Instagram, it lets you add augmented reality (AR) filters like bunny ears and more.

We’d suggest using this app for casual calls with your friends and acquaintances or hosting informal “rooms” with your colleagues or Meetup events. Facebook’s history with privacy hasn’t been spick-and-span and we don’t encourage enterprises to use this service.

5. WhatsApp / FaceTime:

WhatsApp is the most popular instant messaging app and is known for its simplicity yet feature-rich offerings. When compared to the rest of the services, this one lets you add only eight users in a group video call. And, that’s the intended purpose. The app is super casual and best for waking up that one friend who has been sleeping too much during the lockdown.

The same goes for FaceTime, Apple’s in-house messaging, and video calling service. If you’re a micro-team, these solutions would very well work for you. But as you grow, these tools are insufficient to get work done and are standalone apps that offer nothing more than just the basics.


Amazon bans TikTok for employees, reverses decision in a few hours

Everyone’s worried about using TikTok now



Amazon sent an internal memo to its employees, asking them to remove the TikTok from any mobile device that can access their company email. The memo was picked up by the mainstream media almost immediately and it served as an indication of how American companies are losing trust in the Chinese-backed app.

However, the company soon backtracked and an Amazon spokesperson said the request had been sent out in error and that there was no change to the company’s policies at the moment.

Company spokeswoman Jaci Anderson declined to answer questions about what caused the confounding turnaround or error. The original memo cited “security risks” as the reason for avoiding TikTok.

In response, TikTok failed to understand Amazon’s concerns. It did not receive any communication from Amazon before the email went out.

However, the social media app has received a lot of backlash from authorities due to its poor data privacy history. TikTok is banned in India and recently, the US suggested it’s considering a similar ban on the app.

Furthermore, US lawmakers have been concerned about the app for months now. The US army and navy instructed soldiers to delete the app from military devices in December. The biggest concern regarding TikTok is that its parent company, based in China, is required to share information collected on users with the Chinese government.

“We still do not understand their concerns, we welcome a dialogue so we can address any issues they may have and enable their team to continue participating in our community,” TikTok said.

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4K streaming could be cheaper soon

Thanks to the H.266 format



Watching 4K videos on YouTube or Netflix is taxing on mobile data, consuming about a gigabyte or more. But a new compression method could change 4K streaming soon.

Developed by Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute, the H.266 / Versatile Video Coding format aims to bring a more efficient way of compressing and streaming videos digitally. This new standard is meant to replace two existing standards — the H.264/AVC and H.265 HEVC.

Compared to the two, H.266 can transmit 4K videos at a much lower file size. The institute says H.266 can transmit a 10-minute UHD video at only 5GB of data.

This is almost 50 percent more efficient than the most advanced video format in the market, H.265 HEVC. Right now, HEVC requires 10GB of data to transmit the same 10-minute UHD video. As such, consumers can expect cheaper 4K streams with the H.266 format.

For example, a 25-minute 4K video that clocks in at 4GB can be streamed at a much lower 2GB with the new format. This will drastically reduce data and bandwidth consumption for consumers and companies.

The new video format also tries to solve the patent royalty system that has long plagued H.264 and H.265. Right now, companies have to deal with the messy system of paying licenses and royalties just to include these formats to their apps and websites. H.266 does away with these licenses, promising a better deal than the old formats.

Support and availability

As of right now, support for H.266 is being worked on both the software and hardware level. According to the institute that developed the format, Media Coding Industry Format is working on chip designs that support the new format on a hardware level.

Meanwhile, the institute is working on an encoder and decoder software which will be released this autumn.

It is worth noting, however, that H.266/VVC is not the only format that promises to improve 4K streaming on devices. Most tech companies today are adopting AV1 alongside VP9. These two formats are developed by separate organizations.

Right now, these formats — along with the H.266 — promise a better way of streaming 4K that will ultimately benefit everyone.

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Google removes 25 apps for secretly stealing your data

The apps were downloaded more than 2 million times



Google has removed 25 apps from its Play Store for slyly collecting your data in the background. The apps were collectively downloaded more than 2.3 million times before the company clamped down.

According to French cybersecurity firm Evina, the malicious apps were developed by the same threat group. They seemed to offer different functionalities but were fundamentally designed to phish data.

The apps disguised themselves as step counters, image editors, video editors, wallpaper apps, flashlight applications, file managers, and mobile games. While offering some functionality on the front, the end-goal was always to collect user data.

Basically, what these sinister apps do is steal Facebook user’s credentials if they regularly open the account on their phone. The phishing app would overlay a web browser window on top of the official Facebook app and load a fake Facebook login page. You’d assume you’re logging in to your account, but in reality, you just handed over your username and password.

Image by Evina

Evina discovered the flaw in these apps and contacted Google for further action at the end of May. Once the company’s findings were verified, the apps were kicked from the Play Store. Google not only removed the apps from the Play Store but also disabled them on users’ smartphones and informs them via the Play Protect feature.

In recent times, users are increasingly aware of phishing and data collection since social platforms like TikTok have also been caught red-handed. Apple has emphasized its focus on privacy and announced a host of new features to protect the user via iOS 14. Even Xiaomi has added a range of new methods to protect the user in MIUI 12.

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