HD Video Communications: The Bar Gets Lower Still

New camera with built-in audio brings cost of HD videoconferencing below $5,000 per endpoint.

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Apr 18, 2008
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High definition video is all the rage these days. But it hasn't always been that way. According to company spokesman Robert Durand, the world's first HD video offering was launched in 2005 by LifeSize Communications, and the video experience hasn't been the same since.

To back up a bit, LifeSize was born in 2003, when CEO and co-founder Craig Malloy left Polycom—which in 1998 had bought his earlier startup, ViaVideo—to pursue his dream of a company that produced nothing but high definition video gear.

That first HD offering—LifeSize Room, still the flagship product, according to Durand—sells for just under $13,000, a small fraction of the cost of the "telepresence" setups from Cisco, H-P, and other suppliers that typified corporate video communications at the time.

For that reason, "there was almost no penetration of video into these small and medium enterprises," Durand said. But since the release of Room, "that customer segment has formed about a third of our business—partly because they have shorter decision cycles, but more because they see the product and immediately see the value," he said.

In other words, suddenly being able to afford video communications, SMBs were quick to find ways take advantage of it. This lead in turn to the release last October of LifeSize Express, at the even more disruptive price point of $5,999 (see Figure 1).


LifeSize Express
Figure 1 - LifeSize Express HD Video
      (Click to see larger image)

Express consists of the system unit—about the size of a standard sheet of copier paper—a remote control, a microphone pod, and a sophisticated Pan/Tilt/Zoom HD camera: compact enough to fit into just about any room you'd want to implement a telepresence experience.

Last week LifeSize lowered the entry barrier to videoconferencing even farther with the announcement of Focus, a new HD camera (see Figure 2) that has the audio components built in, thus lowering the overall cost of deployment. LifeSize Express with Focus drops the price to $4,999, bringing it into a range where it could be seriously considered for home office use.

"We see the launch of Express with Focus as adding to this continuum of video communication solutions that really allow companies to implement telepresence experiences in any room they want—whether it be your large boardroom to meeting rooms to smaller meeting rooms to executive offices to telecommuters," commented Colin Beuchler, LifeSize's senior vice president of marketing.

"Customers really don't get the true benefit—in return on investment—of video communications until they can expand the [number of] nodes in their video networks," Beuchler went on. "When you're priced at $40,000 - $50,000 - $100,000 there's only a couple of places a smart company is going to think about putting that." But at $5,000 a pop, customers find more and more applications for it and it gets easier to get more and more nodes deployed, he observed.


LifeSize Focus camera/microphone
Figure 2 - LifeSize Focus camera
      (Click to see larger image)

As a case in point, Durand pointed out that, as the Express unit supports H.239—a high resolution computer display protocol—in addition to HD video codecs, LifeSize equipment becomes a vehicle for sharing computer data as well as video images.

"One of our customers, Activision, plays video games over it," Durand told VoIPplanet.com. "So, when the developers in Liverpool want to show the sales team in Santa Monica what they're working on for the next round of Guitar Hero, they just plug their PlayStation into the second video port on the LifeSize Express." The equipment similarly functions to share slide presentations, CAD drawings or any other material originating/residing on the PC.

Having encountered some variability in what various video vendors mean by "high definition," we asked LifeSize CTO, Casey King how his company defines it. "Our definition of HD is what the standards committees say it is," King responded "That's 1280 x720 [resolution] at 30 FPS—all the time. We adhere strictly to the video standards groups."

"We're often credited with having the best price/performing system," King went on, "but from the engineering perspective, we're always striving to have the best performing system regardless of price. The LifeSize Focus combination is just another building block in that puzzle.

"The obvious place to put this is in a smaller or medium-size office, in an executive office, in a home office, a personal office," he said. "The price of the LifeSize Express-Focus is under $5,000, but it is every bit as compelling, immersive an experience as you would see with the $100,000 products," he concluded.

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