Opinion: Getting the lowdown on the latest videoconferencing platforms

Ivan Franco

TS Addict
Staff member

It’s not that the individual products have specific issues but getting multiple pieces to work together consistently and easily in a large environment turns out to be harder and more complicated than it first appears.

Part of the challenge is that video is becoming a significantly larger part of overall inter- and intra-office communications. Thanks to several different factors including faster, more reliable networks, a growing population of younger, video-savvy workers, and enhanced emphasis on remote collaboration, the idea of merely talking to co-workers, customers and work colleagues is almost starting to sound old-fashioned. Yet, despite the growth in video usage, just under 5% of conference rooms are currently video enabled, presenting a large opportunity for companies looking to address those unmet needs. Plus, our dependence on smartphones has reached deep into the workplace, creating new demands for products that can let smartphone-based video and audio calls be more easily integrated into standard office workflows.

"Despite the growth in video usage, just under 5% of conference rooms are currently video enabled, presenting a large opportunity for companies looking to address those unmet needs."

A number of companies are working to address these issues from both a hardware and software perspective, including Poly, the combined company formed by last year’s merger of Polycom and Plantronics, Zoom, the popular videoconferencing platform, and, of course, Microsoft, among many others. At this year’s Zoomtopia conference, Poly took the wraps off a new line of low-cost dedicated videoconferencing appliances, the Poly Studio X30 and Studio X50, both of which can natively run the Zoom client software, as well as other Open SIP-compliant platforms without the need for a connected PC.

The soundbar-shaped devices are built around a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC, run a specialized version of Google’s Android, and feature a 4K-capable video camera, an integrated microphone array, and built-in speakers. In conjunction with the Zoom application, they allow organizations to easily create a Zoom Room experience in a host of different physically different size spaces, from huddle rooms to full-size conference rooms. Plus, because they’re standalone, they can be more easily managed from an IT perspective, offer more consistent performance, and can avoid the challenges end users face if they don’t have the right versions of communication applications when connecting to USB-based video camera systems.

Leveraging the compute horsepower of the Qualcomm SoC, both devices also include several AI-driven software features called PolyMeeting AI, all of which are designed to improve the meeting experience. Optimizations for audio include the ability to filter out unwanted background noises, while new video features offer clever ways of providing professional TV production-quality video tweaks, doing things such as focusing on the current speaker, seeing overall meeting context and more.

Poly is also working with Microsoft’s Teams platform in another range of products called the Elara 60 series that essentially turn your smartphone into a deskphone. Most versions of the Elara include both an integrated speakerphone, a wireless Bluetooth headset, and an integrated Qi wireless charger that can be angled to provide an easy view of your smartphone’s display. By simply placing your smartphone on the device and pairing it via Bluetooth, you can get the equivalent of a desktop phone experience with the flexibility and mobility of a smartphone. Plus, thanks to the integration with Microsoft Teams, there’s a dedicated single Teams logoed button that lets you easily initiate or join a Teams-driven call or meeting—a nice option for companies standardizing on Teams as their unified communications platform.

Of course, the reality is that most organizations need to support multiple UC platforms because even if they make their own choice for internal communications, there’s no way to know or control what potential customers and partners may be using. Given the diversity and robustness of several different platforms choices—including Zoom and Teams, but also Blue Jeans, GoToMeeting, Webex, Ring Central and Skype among others—what most organizations want is a software-based solution that would allow them to easily switch to whatever platform was demanded for a given call or meeting. While that may seem somewhat obvious, the reality is that most videoconferencing products came from the AV industry, which was literally built on decades of proprietary platforms.

Thankfully, we’re reaching the point where it’s now possible to build collaboration and videoconferencing devices based on standard operating systems, such as Android, and then simply run native applications for each of the different communications platforms that are required. We’re not quite there yet, but it’s clear based on some of these new offerings that we are getting much closer.

Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm. You can follow him on Twitter . This article was originally published on Tech.pinions.

Masthead image credit: Campaign Creators on Unsplash

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ShagnWagn

TS Evangelist
There is a big drive at my company to make sure all new offices also have this. The creepiest thing? These cameras zoom in on people when it thinks they are talking. It really is pretty bad. From someone coughing or their chair squeaking, these systems zoom in on them. Really creeps people out. What's worse? It's not even needed - just another "feature" to raise the price and "obsolete" components.

These systems also significantly raise the price not just on components, but you also have setup plus admin time. Then you have technical support. Not to mention training every person how to use these. Then you have technical difficulties when they don't work, which delays meetings and costs labor - especially when you have a dozen or more people. Looking at someone is not a necessity. Humans also are influenced by a person's physical appearance, which can be negative towards business and productivity. But this technology is "cool and trendy", right?
 
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Amster

TS Rookie
There is a big drive...
I'm not really sure what systems you're using in your offices but they don't zoom in to people coughing. There are two technologies, speaker tracking and group framing, either can be enabled or turned off. Professional solutions work out who is talking by analysing their face - coughing or sneezing does not have the camera zoom in to you. I think speaker tracking can be pretty distracting and should be turned off unless you have a really large meeting and you want the far end to be able easily to see the facial expressions of who's talking. For smaller meetings I prefer group framing, where everyone is framed perfectly for transmission to the far end.

These features do not raise any prices and will not become obselote and are one of countless features across a plehotra of conferencing devices on the market!

Vendors understand that successful systems should require minimal user interaction and that a user should just be able to walk in and start a meeting. This is why many vendors now integrate with Exchange or another calendaring service to allow you to book the video conference codec as part of a scheduled meeting, push one button and then connect into a conference.

With regret it is clear that you have not understood the benefits of collaboration that unified communications can bring up. That is the ability to share documents and communicate with people no matter what device they're using, telephone phone, web browser, or in room conferencing system.

A few systems may not require management and monitoring, but if you have a lot then of course it would be silly not to manage an asset. Imagine you had 100's of displays - would it not be advantageous to know which are on or that have been turned off or that are not even powered? Or that can have a software update remotely pushed out to them? Or how about phone systems? or PC's?! Video Conference hardware is just the same! Hell the smart lighting in my house from Lutron is remotely manageable by me as well as my Nest Smoke alarms or my Luxaflex blinds! And these days it's all managed from cloud services anyway, so there's no requirement to install or manage any servers on your premises!

Think about carbon footprints. "Bums on seats" is an archaic way of thinking.
 
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Yynxs

TS Addict
I wish "Bums on seats" was an archaic way of thinking.

Unfortunately, it is you that doesn't understand that 'collaboration' doesn't just occur and meetings are the number one reason why.

Communications is a whole subset and speciality in colleges and is most often diverted into advertising. Communication, the ability to impart complex information clearly to others, especially those who's specialities are not the same as the communicator, is extremely difficult and requires training and practice far beyond the large majority of people producing work. Those that do have the training and practice are held back by power struggles and status quo seekers and, most often, by management unsure of how to direct management attention (the most valuable token there is in organizations).

Your 'vendor comments' show that you sell to people, most likely 'agile management' but that you have no Organizational Development or Organizational Leveling real world experience.

The military knows that any order that can be misunderstood, will be misunderstood. The purpose of 'butts in the seats' is to clarify and show command's choices (authority flow) in the results of the misunderstandings and redirect emphasis and resources towards the original goal.

As such, the military has everyone show up to non-combat meetings, briefed with executive summaries and descriptions of 'what they heard/read' and how they accomplished what they thought was the order. The same summaries and descriptions are coordinated across authority levels and errors in phrasing and, particularly, personalities, are filtered out.

This is not remotely the case at working level and higher corporate meetings.

The problem with 'corporate meetings' is the lack of knowledge on how to conduct a meeting.

The purpose of physical meetings is to create situations where propinquity and 'open comment/feedback' adds to communication and cooperation and focus in producing work in organizations or to emphasize the power flow from the company Alphas.

When the former works it is because of the quality of the people involved and their ability to communicate, neither of which require any co-temporal attention involvement. Put another way, good people, pointed at a problem, and left alone, will cooperate to solve it. Collaborative toys like videoconferencing can help solve inadequate training in communications, but it is a toy used to replace communication skills.

Nothing said in a meeting can't be written properly and sent to the involved, semi-involved, and uninvolved members for comment. Comments can be written properly or clarification sought and returned. These, however, require thought and production not immediately amenable to management attention and, particularly, are susceptible to management diversion to 'important problems'. The videoconference toy is useful here to divert management into thinking work is being accomplished in 'less time'.

There is a reason, the average grunt on the line isn't allowed to 'call a meeting' to gain command attention to a local problem. The same reasons apply to workers and techs and developers attempting to produce work. Meetings that do not involve them detract from managment control mechanisms.

It's a 'cute thought' that anyone can call a meeting or demand collaboration. The reality of organizational structures, management control/monitoring requirement, and real world production pretty much calls the lie to your vendor statements and college experience comments.

I did like 'carbon footprint' though. My first question to 'carbon footprint' people is always, how many trees have you planted and made sure they grew to fruition?