Surround Sound Bars & DIY Video Conference Systems: Vidyo or Vaddio?

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Sharp-LCD42D62U-HDTVIt’s come to my attention that in recent times “Surround Sound Bars” have exploded in popularity. That’s “sound bar” as in a form of home-theatre-sound-in-a-box, not a smoky dive where musicians perform strange music. Sound bars are now so popular that they are impacting sales of more traditional HTIB solutions. I’ve come to see some parallels between surround sound bars and DIY video conference room systems, an idea that first came up earlier this year.

As I have mentioned previously, we don’t have a traditional surround-sound system in support of our HDTV. Our 42” Sharp Aquos HDTV was the largest that they offered with built-in speakers…which is all that we felt we required at the time.

In truth, it was the display size and resolution that mattered most when we made the purchase decision. In the middle of the last decade most 40”-ish HDTVs still only resolved 720p. Since my Mrs tended to watch more CBS than the other networks it made sense to get a HDTV capable of resolving 1080i.

After parting with $$$ for the TV I wasn’t all that eager to shell out again for external audio capability. Moreover, the Mrs wasn’t all that interested in the impact that a traditional surround system would have in the room. Too much complexity. Too much added electronics, blinken-lights and wiring. Wires are a curse. Very low SAF.

I’m quite certain that this is where the current popularity of sound bars arises. With little wiring involved they are easier to install, relatively affordable, and exhibit much higher SAF. They may not be the pinnacle of audiophile performance, but they’re convenient. The lesson here, which we have repeatedly seen, is that once basic performance requirements are met, convenience trumps all else.

Now let me pivot back to that idea of DIY video conference room systems. These things potentially have a lot in common with sound bars. To be successful they need to meet the user’s basic technical requirements, but more than anything else the should be convenient. Easy to buy. Easy to install. Easy to use. Easy to support.

So let’s compare two possible solutions in this regard: Vidyo and Vaddio.

Vidyo 

Vidyo let’s their resellers bundle a Vidyo soft client running on a small PC like Intel’s NUC along side a Logitech Conference Cam BCC950 and a HTDV. It’s DIY, where the DIY aspect falls to the reseller, who gets to earn their keep by assembling and supporting the components. They are allowing the reseller to add value by assembling commodity components, even if the various components themselves are limited in their capabilities.

Theirs is a complete solution in that it equips the small meeting room with everything required to fit into the Vidyo eco-system. That said, there’s nothing to stop a user from leveraging the same hardware to join a Google Hangout or make a Skype or Lync call. The bundle, including a commodity HDTV is intended to sell for around $2k.

There is some overhead to this solution as it leaves a PC in the room. That computer will need to be maintained. The PC, webcam and TV must remain powered and connected, so there will be some wires. It remains a DIY solution, lacking a little in refinement.

Vaddio

In marked contrast, Vaddio just released their new GroupStation device. At first glance GroupStation appears to be the sound bar of video conference end-points. You might think that it’s an appliance, like the LifeSize Passport…but it’s not. It leverages the BYOD trend providing a USB attached speakerphone, camera and speakers.

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In many ways it’s a super-duper, installed competitor to the BCC950. Unlike the little BCC950 it provides more capable hardware on all fronts. The HD camera has a 19x zoom capability in a PTZ mount. The speakers are driven by more powerful, digital amplification.

The microphone module sits on the table, providing the connection to the host computer, tablet or smart phone. It features a microphone array, making it better suited to servicing a group around a small table. Control of the camera’s PTZ mount is via the mic pod and apps for the host devices.

The Camera Bar connects to the Mic module via a common Cat6 cable. It delivers a video stream like any webcam, allowing its use with a diverse range of client apps, from Blue Jeans to Vidyo. Like the BCC950, it can deliver an H.264 compressed video stream, allowing for support of 1080p video over USB 2.0.

Clearly, I can see a lot to like about Vaddio’s GroupStation. I think that it’s a better solution to small meeting rooms than the Vidyo/NUC/Logitech offering. But…and there is a but….it comes at a price. It looks like the GroupStation retails for around $3500. That doesn’t include the HDTV or the host device. So the cost is considerably more than the Vidyo bundle.

Even so, it’s cheaper, more capable, and more flexible than a traditional end-point appliance. Vaddio’s GroupStation is a very interesting new product. It seems like the right combination of capabilities and ease-of….well…everything.

Maybe the Vaddio product is just a slightly up-market approach to the original Vidyo concept? It brings a BYOD aspect that some will likely find appealing, regardless of their preference in soft client.