I replied today to a comment on an old post and thought I should take the time to elucidate in a longer form.
Luc wrote in on a blog post of mine from three years ago. In "Why Does Webinar Audio Stink?" I called attention to the fact that audio quality on webinars is substandard - both in live streaming and in recordings. Many people have added their frustrations and dissatisfaction in the comments section, but I have seen little in the way of technical improvement.
One of the contributing factors is still the age-old dilemma of competitive software development and sales… Performance improvements aren't sexy. Marketing departments want new features and capabilities they can show off, not incremental and intangible advances in sound quality.
But I believe a second contributing cause is the growth of wireless internet connections (I'll use "WiFi" as a convenient shorthand for all the different types of wireless networks and ask the technology lexicography police to let it slide).
I regularly work on client webinars with both presenters and attendees connecting via WiFi. In many locations it is getting well-nigh impossible to find a hardwired Ethernet port. People regularly watch and present from hotel rooms, office conference rooms, commuter trains, and field locations around the world.
The problem with WiFi for streaming content is that it is inconsistent. Even running the standard pre-webinar quality tests is no guarantee of performance thirty minutes (or thirty seconds) later. A little bit of interference from other signals on the same channel, a small shift in your device's antenna orientation, or instantaneous local load as your neighbor starts to stream a movie or download a giant email attachment can interrupt the flow of data to your system.
As individuals watching recorded content by ourselves, that's normally not a big deal. We may notice occasional brief interruptions or buffering pauses, but most of us have become so used to them that they don't even register consciously. Our brain smoothes over the little pause or we accept the need to buffer a bit more data before proceeding with our content.
But in a live webinar, everyone is supposed to see and hear everything at the same time. If a presenter asks a question of the audience, s/he wants to see comments coming in right away. If we display a poll, we need to collect and display accumulated responses immediately. If we show a video clip, we need to know that it has finished playing for all attendees before we resume our live presentation narration. You can't let each participant accumulate their own little buffering pauses, as eventually nobody is seeing or hearing the content synchronously with anybody else.
So what is a technology vendor to do? They need to plan for worst case scenarios, attempting to create a trouble-free synchronous, interactive experience for all users. At the same time, they are actively promoting the use of ever more bandwidth intensive features, such as live webcam video, presentation of video clips, collaborative whiteboards, and more.
What does that translate to? More compression, lower sampling rates and frame rates, and a search for any and every opportunity to cut corners. What we end up with as users is an experience carefully calculated to achieve the minimally acceptable levels of quality that won't make customers actively leave. And indeed, why should we change vendors based on average audio quality? It is likely to be just as bad with the next technology, as they all face the same dilemma.
If there was a brilliant solution to this problem, someone would have implemented it by now. It may be quite literally insurmountable until we get some new global high-throughput wireless internet infrastructure, used by every person on the planet. In the meantime, the webinar vendors can only look enviously and longingly at the dedicated site-based video conferencing products from Polycom, Cisco, and others. "Oh, what we could do if we knew that every participant in a meeting was connecting via a dedicated hardwired broadband connection!"
I'm still looking for a webinar vendor willing to differentiate themselves based on having noticeably superior audio quality in both live meetings and recordings. So far I have not found one.