Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) is here to stay

Since its first introduction on the interpreting market, video remote interpreting is well on its way to conquer the hearts and minds of professional interpreters looking for new business opportunities.

About five years ago, there were perhaps half a dozen providers worldwide to launch a workable VRI application, and most would-be providers applied a wait-and-see approach (you go first). Today, the number of VRI providers has quintupled in the last three years only (source: CSA) and will continue to grow as VRI will get a foothold on the conference interpreting market.

VRI is not (yet) the Holy Grail

In spite of the very high level of expectations in the early days of video remote interpreting or remote simultaneous interpreting, VRI is not the holy grail for conference interpreters on a mission to become fully independent of interpreting equipment, work environments or project stakeholders.

This is particularly true in the niche of conference interpreting. The quality of the audio feed, the requirement of real-time visuals and the support of a project management team with support engineers are still key success factors in the organization and setup of any conference with video remote interpreting. The bottlenecks of poor network quality and bandwidth for real-time audio and video are still challenging, even though this is improving very fast. In the foreseeable near future, we will all use ultra-fast wireless networks of the likes of 5G or comparable networks that will enable another breakthrough in remote simultaneous interpreting. Until that time, a cabled, fast and reliable network is a must-have for VRI applications.

VRI standards for online audio and video transmission

The ISO standard 20108 for audio and video signals for simultaneous interpreting and standard 20109 for simultaneous interpreting equipment have not made life easier for newcomers on the VRI market to compete with a professional solution that is in full conformity with these standards.

The absolute measurement of speech intelligibility remains a complex matter, but at least the standard provides a benchmark to reach optimum transmission quality of a reliable audio feed that comes from the other side of the world using internet gateways between remote locations.

The future of VRI: Augmented Human Interpreting 

VRI is barely underway to position itself as a viable alternative for onsite interpreting, and there is already talk of yet another disruption in simultaneous interpreting: real-time on-demand interpreting through advanced speech technology (STT/TTS) and neural machine translation.

Although this is not by far a substitute for the expert support of a human interpreter, it may soon reach a tipping point where it performs better than no interpreting at all (source: CSA). And for people who want nothing less than the best, you can still opt for augmented human interpreting with real-time interpreters delivering a faithful and reliable reconstruction of the original message from any place, any language, and anytime.

Eric Bauwelinck, 23 April 2019.