Review: Polycom VVX-1500 Business Media Phone

Dialing By SIP URI

Of course, you’re not usually going to be making wideband or video calls via the normal phone numbers (aka the PSTN.) To ensure a pure IP call path, it’s becoming more common to make calls by way of SIP URI, which look very similar to an email address.

SIP URI

Figure 5: SIP URI

Using a SIP URI implies that, beyond the typical dialpad, you have some way to perform alphanumeric entry into the phone. The Soundpoint series of phones have long had a way of entering SIP URI via the dialpad, but it’s more than a little tedious. Most users get around this by entering the SIP URI that they commonly use into the phone’s contact directory. Since the contacts can be provisioned remotely from an XML file, this saves manually entering complex alphanumeric sequences directly on the phone.

In contrast, the VVX-1500 provides nice tools for using SIP URIs. When dialing, you can select either a traditional dialpad display on the LCD or a soft QWERTY keyboard layout. With the dialpad display selected, you can dial using the hard keys or by touching the soft keypad on the touchscreen LCD. Selecting the QWERTY layout on the LCD makes entering SIP URIs trivially easy, not unlike using the virtual keyboard on an iPhone or Blackberry Storm.

On screen keyboard

Figure 6: On screen keyboard

XML Browser & API

Beyond video calls, the next best use of the LCD display is the built-in XML micro-browser. Polycom has provided this capability in the Soundpoint series phones for some time, but the color touchscreen display makes it a much more attractive tool for corporate developers.

The XML browser can be used to display data relevant to a user’s working life. To illustrate the capabilities of the feature, Polycom has provided an online information service that they call “My Info Portal.”, which is accessed through the Applications menu. Once you establish a free login to this service, the VVX can be set to display a variety of data sources including;

  • News top stories
  • Sports top stories
  • Weather conditions & forecast for a specific ZIP code
  • Markets & Stock values for up to 5 listings

My Info Portal Stocks

Figure 7: My Info Portal Stocks

Setting up the portal can be done from any web browser, or the phone itself. This service truly illustrates the potential of the XML micro-browser as a means of displaying live data to the user of the phone. In moving beyond this example I look forward to integrating a live view of a webcam pointed at my front gate.

The VVX-1500 also exposes an API allowing interaction with external systems. The API includes functions for many common call control processes. This allows tight integration of the phone into other corporate systems. For example, integration with a CRM system would allow click-to-dial functionality. In one click of the mouse, an outbound call could be placed and related customer profile data displayed on the VVX screen.

These sorts of features are the raw tools to support custom integration of the VVX-1500s into business processes. This is a phenomenon known as “Communication Enabling Business Processes” or CEBP.

Service Provider Partners

The VVX-1500 is on the vanguard of a new wave of high-end IP phone with multimedia capabilities. Polycom is working with a cadre of partners to ensure that telecom service providers are able to leverage the capabilities of the device. While that process is ongoing, the list of certified VVX-capable service providers is still relatively short, with service providers principally leveraging the Broadsoft Broadworks platform:

My own experience suggests that a truly open and SIP-compliant service provider can work well, even if they’re not on the list. Junction Networks / OnSIP works for me and they had no experience with the VVX-1500 before I told them that I was using it. However, some advanced features, like video voicemail, require that your service provider offer deep support for the VVX-1500. So before you make the investment in VVX-1500s, you should check with your intended ITSP to ensure device compatibility and depth of feature support.

For businesses that rely upon on-site PBX equipment, the VVX-1500 is certified as compatible with following list of IP-PBX systems:

  • Adtran Netvanta 7100
  • Epygi Quadro
  • NEC Sphericall
  • ObjectWorld Unified Communication Server
  • Zultys MX 250
  • Digium Switchvox

Closing Thoughts

It makes some sense that in evaluating the VVX-1500 we look at comparable competitive products to see where it fits into the marketplace. That’s not easy. In fact, if you want to compare it to truly similar devices it’s almost impossible.

To start with, there just aren’t that many video capable phones offered by anyone, anywhere. I’ve assembled a table below of the current offerings that I was able to locate online. On the low end of the scale, there are devices that target the home user and, to some degree, small businesses. These are the type of devices that have been offered by those how have pioneered videophone service, like 8×8.

Make/Model Grandstream
GXV-3006
Grandstream
GXV-3140
Motorola
Ojo Phone
Polycom
VVX-1500
Cisco
7985G
Tandberg
150 MXP
MSRP $249 $299 $350-$450 $799 $3945 $2990
Screen Size 5.6” TFT LCD 4.3”TFT LCD 7” TFT LCD 7” TFT LCD 8.4” TFT LCD 8.4” TFT LCD
Touchscreen No No No Yes No No
Wideband Audio Support G.722 G.722 No G.722, G.722.1, G.722.1C G.722 G.722
Signaling Protocols SIP SIP SIP SIP H.323 (coming) SCCP H.323, SIP
Video Codecs H.263, H.264 H.263, H.264 H.263, H.264 H.263, H.263+, H.264 H.261, H.263, H.263+, H.264 H.261, H.263, H.263+, H.264
Video Resolution CIF / QVGA / QCIF CIF / QVGA / QCIF QCIF CIF / SIF SIF / QCIF / SQCIF SIF / QCIF / SQCIF
Network interfaces 2 x 10/100 2 x 10/100 1 x 10/100 2 x 10 / 100 / 1000 2 x 10/100 2 x 10/100
Power-Over-Ethernet No No No Yes Yes Yes
Target market SMB / consumer SMB / consumer Consumer SMB / Enterprise Enterprise Enterprise
Table 1: Video Phones Compared
Video Resolution Legend
CIF = 352×288 pixels
SIF = 352×240 pixels
QVGA = 320×240 pixels
QCIF = 176×144 pixels
SQCIF = 128×96 pixels

The trouble is that in some cases, low end video phones don’t have the kind of feature set that a more demanding business user would require. On the high-end, you have very expensive devices from Cisco and Tandberg. The have business class features and assured interoperability with similarly-branded conference suites. These devices, while very costly, just don’t seem as practical as someone’s everyday desk phone.

The Polycom VVX-1500 fits somewhere in the middle of these two groups. It’s definitely enterprise class hardware. It has the features, and build quality demanded of a business setting. It is, in essence, a solid desktop IP phone that is also a resource to the realm of larger video conference systems. There is no doubt in my mind that the Polycom VVX-1500 is a fine piece of equipment, worthy of any executive’s desktop.

Setting aside the matter of video calling, it’s a superb SIP phone with a touchscreen LCD that can be very effective as a display for business related data, given a little effort on the part of your local IT team. But its ability to extend the video conferencing realm to include a single remote individual is what makes it a truly compelling device for mid-sized companies with existing video conferencing installations.

It’s application in smaller companies remains a little unclear to me, however. The idea of one-to-one video calls is just not as compelling as video conferencing in many cases. That use alone may not overcome the initial sticker shock of around $700, just for the phone!

My plan is to study the benefits of one-to-one video calling with a limited rollout of several VVX units to key staff. After a few months of use, we’ll then determine if one-to-one video calling brings real benefits to our business. If not, we will at least have some video capable phones that can integrate with our current plans for boardroom video conferencing.

Special thanks to Chris Veazey from BlinkMind for participating in the test call and capturing the video file.