HD Video Conferencing: Striking a Balance

There’s been something of an explosion of activity in the IP-based video conferencing arena over the last several months. Enterprise VoIPplanet has covered several new video product lines that feature, to one degree or another, high-definition (HD) quality.

These systems represent breakthroughs on several fronts. First, the HD resolution, as with HD TV, creates an ‘immersive’ experience for users, making the technology more effective as a communications medium. This, in turn, has made video conferencing a far more useful enterprise tool and provided an impetus to get it ‘out of the boardroom’—that is, to deploy it in more locations, for more different kinds of users.

Quincy, Mass.-based Videre Conferencing recently announced a line of prepackaged HD video solutions—the Videre Presence family—that promise to significantly lower the bar to deployment and generally popularize the technology and its benefits.

The Videre Presence solutions are designed to address what CEO Todd Luttinger sees as the three primary barriers to widewpread adoption—cost, ease of use, and speed of deployment—and really grew out of the demands of customers.

For most of its history—since its launch in 2000—Videre has done large-scale, custom audio-visual integrations for big clients: large corporations, universities, hospitals, law firms, and the like.

“What we were finding more and more,” Luttinger told Enterprise VoIPplanet, “was that organization were looking for ways to be able to have an offering of systems just below what’s generally referred to nowadays as ‘telepresence’—the high-end, quarter of a million- to half million-dollar rooms.” They liked the ‘immersive experience’ associated with such installations, but they wanted to be able to deploy HD video conferencing facilities throughout their enterprise “at price points that were significantly less than that.”

The essence of the classic ‘telepresence room’ is that it’s almost always a one-off creation, designed and built to fit a specific space with a specific image. By contrast, Videre’s new approach, which we might call ‘modified cookie-cutter,’ is to standardize on basic, best of breed components and assemble them into packaged solutions designed to meet three different kinds of scenarios—even while leaving some room for component choice.

At the low end of the cost scale—but the high end of the flexibility scale—is Videre’s Series 300, a portable HD solution built around cameras and main processing units from Polycom, LifeSize, or Tandberg; either single or double displays in a range of sizes up to 50 inches, speakers, wireless microphones, and “full presentation capability in native resolution.” (That is, in addition to video images, the system can display PowerPoint and similar PC-based visuals in the proper resolution and aspect ratio, not possible with all video conferencing equipment.)

Another innovation of the Series 300, according to CTO Steve Cogliano, is a simplified control system the company is calling Videre Instant-On. One of the problems with custom integrated systems, he pointed out, is the multiple control devices that manipulate the individual components. Videre has created a new feature that simplifies all that.

“When you pick up the remote control, it not only gets the [system unit] ready to receive a call, it also turns the display on and sets it to the right input,” Cogliano explained. “So when you get to the conference room in the morning and want to make a call, you pick up the remote, hit any button, and the whole system livens up, goes to the right input, you hit the connect button, and you can initiate your video call.”

“What we attempted to do [with the Series 300] was create a low-cost, simple-to-use, easy- and fast-to-deploy solution for mobile conferencing in the enterprise,” Luttinger summed up.

“Then we took that up a notch with the Series 500,” he went on. “We had a lot of customers that didn’t want the system to move, but also didn’t want two or three weeks of down time to get this custom-integrated solution installed in a small conference room or boardroom.”

Indeed, the Presence Series 500 is a fixed, room or office system with pretty much the same feature set as the 300—although the single or dual displays can be as large as 65 inches.

The top-of-the-line Videre Presence Series 700 is designed with large conference rooms and boardrooms in mind. Like its Presence siblings it is based on standardized components. It offers the same display options as the 500 Series, but uses ceiling-mounted speakers and other sophisticated touches.

The boardroom level of functionality adds a lot of complexity, Cogliano pointed out. “We’ve looked to simplify it by standardizing on functionality with a touch-panel control system called Vedere Control™ that takes the user interface both for audio and video conferencing and presentation capabilities and has, if you will, a programmed, canned template that is very simple for users to navigate.”

The idea here is to provide a solution that any user can easily master—that doesn’t require special technicians to make it do its thing. “We aimed to simplify that complexity; reduce the turnaround time from concept to completion, and, as well, dramatically reduce the cost typically associated with custom integrated rooms,” Luttinger concluded.

The Videre Presence solutions include training, installation, and service coverage. They are available now, with prices “starting under $30,000.”

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