Elluminate has been around for some time, concentrating on web collaboration primarily for education and training (although they have spill-over into standard enterprise business communications uses). For some reason, I have never been engaged on a client webinar using Elluminate web conferencing software, so I called them up and asked for a demo.
Elluminate markets its full-functionality web conferencing software under the name Elluminate Live! (the exclamation point and italics are their branding, not my emphasis). The software is available in an Academic Edition, Enterprise Edition, and Lite Edition. They also allow you to test basic functionality with a free collaborative version for three-way conferencing under the vRoom name.
I didn't have a chance to use the software as an administrator, so I won't comment on the ease or idiosyncrasies of scheduling events, managing users, or reporting. Instead I'll give my quick impressions of the conferencing functionality. As with every web conferencing technology, there are strengths and weaknesses and you need to match them to your priorities.
The focus on education and training means that Elluminate Live! has specialized features such as breakout rooms (move a large set of meeting participants into smaller sub-meetings where they can collaborate and use the conferencing features to work apart from the other breakout groups). Elluminate has also gone to some lengths to ensure integration with popular Learning Management Systems such as Blackboard and WebCT.
Initial automatic installation of the software on my computer when joining my first meeting took around 25-30 seconds to load a large number of Java JAR files. My antivirus security software was triggered numerous times to confirm installations and connections to the Internet. After the software has been accessed from your machine, subsequent startups are much faster. Users must have Sun Java on their computers... the old Microsoft Java is not supported. The software runs on any platform with a Java implementation, so it doesn't matter if your presenters and audience are on Windows, Macintosh, Linux, or Unix machines.
As a new meeting participant, I was greeted with a popup window filled with a very long, densely written End User License agreement. Every participant attempting to join your conference is forced to click agreement with the verbiage before they can connect. This feature alone gives the software a black eye for use in outbound public lead generation or marketing uses. You'll lose potential audience members who refuse to sign away legal rights just to hear your pitch. I'm sure this is not as much a problem for educational venues where your students already know and trust you. Still, it seems like a strange way to treat audience members and this is the only web conferencing software I have seen with such an implementation.
Elluminate Live! is designed for use with computer headsets or speakers. Audio is delivered via VoIP and uses an automatic voice activation feature that silences a user's microphone when s/he is not speaking. Unfortunately the silence is so complete that every time my presenter paused to take a breath, I thought I had lost the connection. There is no sense of background ambient noise maintained to let the audience know the speaker is still on the line. Add to this the fact that the live audio was rather "buzzy" over my headphones, and the discontinuity was disconcerting.
When we were talking back and forth interactively, there was a short but noticeable lag between each person's content. The symptoms were akin to satellite delays in long distance communications, where one person finishes speaking and there is a brief pause before the other person reacts and responds. In a highly interactive conversation, this would get a bit tiresome. The software supports up to four simultaneous interactive microphones.
Internet-delivered audio is prone to all kinds of degradation outside the control of a web conferencing provider: users have slow connections, data packets get lost or re-routed and have to be reassembled at the far end, trunks get temporary congestion, and so on. Elluminate has attempted to compensate for these problems in a variety of ways. There is both manual and automatic bandwidth compensation within a meeting. If a listener hits an Internet lag that causes temporary silence, their audio stream automatically accelerates to a higher pitch faster playback until they catch up with the live stream again. Longer delays cause the system to prompt the user on whether they would prefer to listen to the buffered section or just discard it and jump straight back to the live stream.
In the current version, you can use a hardware phone bridge device to bring telephone audio into your computer as a source for the delivered stream. This would let you run a simultaneous phone and VoIP audio session. The next version of the product should include fully integrate phone and VoIP audio in software.
Session management is very detailed and configurable. There are levels of authority and an administrator can control all sorts of permissions for groups or individuals about what they can see and use in the system (ability to annotate, speak, text chat, etc). Elluminate has one of the most detailed user management setups I have seen in a web conferencing product.
Whiteboard tools have the usual controls for drawing and adding text, with a very nice implementation of drag and drop. Users can move things around the screen and rearrange text lists. This is great for group brainstorming sessions.
Application sharing allows all three possible options for what to show your audience. You can share your entire desktop, a named application, or a defined rectangular region of your screen. The presenter has the option to configure the sharing environment for higher quality or faster transmission. Unfortunately on my PowerPoint torture test, I found that the highest quality setting wasn't sufficient to show smooth true-color gradients (the colors were displayed in bands), while the fastest transmission setting wasn't sufficient to keep up with slide-to-slide transition effects or smooth animations on a slide.
Basic audience polling inside a presentation is rather spartan. You can only ask single-selection multiple choice questions... no "select all that apply". And when you display the results to the audience, they always see absolute number of responses. I prefer an option to show only percentages in case you don't want to advertise that you have a small turnout. This is another case where marketing and educational uses have different needs and priorities.
There is a separate facility for creating much more complex and powerful quizzes that allow text answers, radio buttons, drop-downs, and so on. Unfortunately you can only see these results in post-event reports, so they aren't a direct substitute for the interactive polling feature.
Recording a session stores it on Elluminate's servers in a proprietary (VCR) format. This results in very small file sizes (an hour presentation might be only 10MB). You can download a VCR recording file and place it on a CD along with Elluminate's viewing software so recipients can play it back immediately (it doesn't require a local install of the viewer software). You can also convert your recording to a more standard Flash or MOV format (which will be much larger).
One intriguing feature I didn't have a chance to test was absolutely unique to Elluminate Live!. Users can take notes on their system during a presentation. When they play back the recording of the event, their notes display in synch with the content. That's pretty snazzy! Recordings also preserve interactive portions of the live event, so if the presenter sent out a file share to the audience, recording viewers can get the file as well. If there was an interactive Web tour during the live event, the recording will lead viewers through the same Web pages.
I asked about registration management and was told that you can create registration pages with or without passwords for events. You can also send out an individual secure link that is different for each attendee. If an attendee forwards it to someone else (for instance, to avoid paying two registration fees) the system blocks the second attempt to log in. This is great for fee-based events. Of course you get all the usual reports on attendance, registration, chat logs, and so on.
My take on Elluminate from this quick overview is that it serves its primary purpose well. Trainers and educators should be able to easily carry out their online sessions using the software. Features such as group interactive whiteboards and breakout rooms are very useful for these applications. The cross-platform aspects are welcome for serving a diverse audience. The use of VoIP for audio eliminates having to set up and pay for an audio conference line and can be effective for international meetings where phone access can get expensive.
I am not quite as keen on Elluminate Live! for marketing and lead generation events. Your audience can see other members of the audience in the participant list, which may raise privacy concerns and may be embarrassing if you have poor turnout. The license agreement for one-time participants is overbearing. And polling is not implemented for maximum marketing effectiveness.
Elluminate itself seems to be a strong company with a mature product, good customer base, and proper support facilities. It is worth a look if your priorities fit the product's strengths.