Prognosticator extraordinaire Dave Michels recently post some observations of things he saw at InfoComm. In so doing I think that he may have coined a new buzz-phrase, “DIY Room Systems.” I must admit that I am smitten with the concept.
For those not versed in enterprise video conference jargon a “room system” is a video conference end-point of the sort that might be found in a meeting room. That covers a broad swath of territory, basically everything between desktop video conference clients and telepresence suites.
The traditional players in this space are the usual suspects; Cisco, LifeSize, Polycom, Radvision, Vidyo, plus a few others. Commodity PCs have been taking business away from dedicated hardware desktop systems for a long time. Soft clients from all the aforementioned, as well as Google Hangouts, GotoMeeting, Microsoft Lync & Skype, amongst others have driven down the cost of desktop video conference end-points.
What Dave describes is a move by Vidyo to allow dealers to assemble low-cost end-points leveraging cheap new ideas in commodity hardware to attack the room systems. Room systems are a significant market segment, and one that’s likely to keep growing as video adoption reaches further into SMB space.
One of the major enabling mechanisms for this move is the availability of devices like the Logitech BCC950 conference camera/speakerphone. A plain vanilla webcam might produce decent results at a desktop, but it lacks the field of view and PTZ capability necessary to be satisfactory in a meeting room. The BCC950 also features an on-board video encoder to ease the CPU burden of the host platform.
Dave notes that Vidyo has implemented PTZ control of the Logitech BCC950 USB conference camera. That allows the far end to determine what they see by remote control.
The VDO360 is another USB-attached camera that has recently launched into this arena. It provides a flexible PTZ capability with a 12x optical zoom at an attractive price point, although it’s still considerably more costly than the BCC950. It recently won Telepresence Options Best Camera Award at InfoComm. I’ve been evaluating one of these cameras here in my office for the past few months.
In the Vidyo case that means Intel’s new NUC hardware. NUC (Next Unit of Computing) is Intel’s answer to the slow but continuous rise of very small form-factor PCs. Combine that compact hardware with a few accessories and a license for Vidyo’s soft client, and you have the cheapest room system you can imagine.
I’ve long appreciated ultra-SFF computers like the FitPC and IntensePC. Intel’s NUC doesn’t have the flexibility or raw sex appeal of the IntensePC, but it has the potential to pack a powerful CPU into a very small, reasonably low-cost box. Intel can drive the cost well below the current price of a well-specified IntensePC Pro.
I think it’s very interesting that the video capability of such relatively low-end, commodity hardware has reached the point where it can service high-quality video conferencing.
Combine three commodity hardware items with a soft client and you have a room system for under $2k.
Will such a combination deliver the same experience as a more traditional, hardware-based room system? How does this sort of arrangement compare to the newly offered business services from Biscotti or TelyHD?
These questions I cannot answer, but I am certainly curious to find out.
One thing is certain, there is business to be had assembling and supporting such installations. That said, it’s not the high-margin business that some in the space have enjoyed over the years.