ViVu's VuRoom: Video conferencing and collaboration by subscription.

VuRoom relies on Skype for its presence and contact functions—as well as its audio.

By Adam Stone | Posted Dec 1, 2010
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Build it or buy it? ViVu will go you one better: They’re borrowing it.

The company’s VuRoom multiparty video collaboration system delivers connectivity for up to eight people, along with archiving, slide sharing and desktop sharing for an SMB-friendly $10 per month. Moreover, the company can deliver its product not just to a meeting room but also to laptop or desktop computers.

But that’s not the clever bit. In order to access VuRoom, users meet, greet, and convene via someone else’s near-ubiquitous platform: Skype.

"The obvious advantage is the presence that it brings," said product manager Prasanth Mln. "A whole lot of people already use Skype. You have all your friends and contacts there, so you don’t have to add them or import their contact details." To initiate a call, the host logs onto Skype, selects participants from his or her contact list, opts to call the group, and the conference is convened.

VuRoom software processes all the telepresence functions—video, archiving, slide sharing—while the system relies on Skype to handle the audio component. "Audio is probably the most difficult part to get right in a video conferencing system, and that is already what Skype does," Mln said.

To be clear: VuRoom is not beholden to Skype. Its highly flexible architecture could accommodate the same arrangement with most other communications platforms; in fact the company expects to announce other similar pairings soon.

In the meantime, though, this early decision to hitch its wagon to Skype’s star could give a boost to the company. Based in Cupertino, Calif. and Bangalore, ViVu launched VuRoom in January 2010 as a companion to its VuCast product line, which can broadcast a video event to an extremely large number of participants.

Skype’s ease of access is a boon to ViVu, but it’s not core to the mission. The company’s foremost goal is to take communications muscle of telepresence and move it into the laptop-and-desktop realm.

The ability to do browser-based telepresence on a laptop is the product of an overall evolution in the strength of these devices. The newest machines can handle computations at a pace the older PCs could never have touched.

In taking telepresence out of the conference room, ViVu also has tried to bring down the cost for end users, by streamlining what has sometimes been a labor-intensive process. "You can host or participate from your desktop or laptop with your inbuilt camera," Mln said. "You don’t have a film crew coming into your place to organize a conference. You also don’t need to install anything as a participant in order to join a conference."

The lack of an installation requirement speaks to an overall agenda at ViVu—that is, the call for simplification.

"For many smaller businesses, especially, today’s bigger, bulkier solutions have been problematic. "People are just not able to use them. They are getting too technical, too complex, with too many glitches," Mln said. The browser-based watchword: Simplify.

Others are competing in the same space, looking for ways to make telepresence easier, especially for the SMB crowd, by exiting the traditional teleconference room in favor of laptops and desktops. ViVu executives say it is no small feat these days to find a niche within telepresence, a notoriously ill-defined corner of telecommunications.

"The definition is quite broad. It covers very expensive systems and it covers vendors who do it totally free of cost," Mln said. "People use it to mean multiparty video conferencing between four or five people, and they use it for large-scale video webcasts to tens of thousands of people."

The differentiation ultimately lies not in size or scope, nor even in feature sets, but in performance, Mln said. The systems with the cleanest video and the clearest sound will be the first to rise to the top.

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