Polycom Lowers Bar for High-Def Videoconferencing

So you say you want to teleconference, but you just don’t have the bandwidth? Polycom, Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif. says it has the answer.

The company already has carved a space for itself in the telepresence market through its range of voice and video conferencing solutions. Now Polycom is looking to attract a new bracket of conferencing users with a much lower bandwidth version of its technology.

“In the past, when people had a limited amount of bandwidth, they were hesitant to invest in high definition technology,” said Laura Shay, director of product marketing at Polycom. “This opens up that possibility.”

The company is incorporating newly designed video compression technology into its existing HDX systems, a move it says will reduce bandwidth requirements by half. The most likely users will be distance workers and remote offices, situations in which bandwidth has been at a premium, Shay said. Small businesses also may be tempted to get into videoconferencing if they see bandwidth demands significantly reduced.

The compression technology comes about thanks to recent changes in the H.264 High Profile industry standard. As a result it is not proprietary to Polycom. “We’re not doing any kind of magic. Polycom is just the first to implement it,” Shay said.

Shay said it is likely competitors will quickly follow suit. Other major players in the space include Tandberg (in the midst of an acquisition by Cisco); Italian firm Aethra; and Radvision of Tel Aviv.

The bandwidth enhancement is set to ship in Q2, Shay said. Existing customers will receive it free and it will be automatically built into new iterations of the HDX system. The software can be licensed for $2,000 but virtually all customers today run it under an annual $750 contract agreement, Shay said.

In other company news, Polycom is set to release its newest system, the HDX 6000, which it is touting as en extremely low cost entryway into telepresence. A bundled package, the 6000 View, includes a 42-inch screen, camera, microphone, and codec (the necessary audio/video software component of the system).

“It is all about the pricing,” Shay said. While similar bundled packages have been selling in the $7,000 to $10,000 range, she said, the HDX 6000 View will come in at around $5,000.

The company has brought down the cost in a couple of ways. First, Shay said, it negotiated a competitive deal with Sony for the monitor. The package also includes a camera with a shorter field of view, intended for smaller conference spaces. Finally, the company is shipping fewer cables: Now that the monitors are uniform, it is no longer necessary to ship multiple cable types in order to accommodate multiple screens.

In a third announcement, Polycom says it has taken steps to integrate its product more closely with Microsoft tools. Shay said the latest changes will make the product easier to manage for existing users, and should lower the bar of entry for those aspiring toward telepresence.

Until recently, Polycom’s telepresence information did not merge smoothly—or at all—into the calendaring function within Microsoft Exchange. To get a meeting on the books, users had to manually enter meeting data such as room name and pass code.

Now Polycom has integrated its conferencing system with Exchange and Outlook. Users will see a video meeting icon when they go into Outlook, and will be able to click on it to populate their calendars with meeting information.

It’s a capability that has been sorely lacking, in terms of productivity and ease of use, Shay said. “When people start to scale and expand video to the desktop, one of the key inhibitors has been that the IT administrators don’t want a trouble ticket every time somebody wants to launch a video meeting on their desktop.” This has been an overly common scenario in situations in which meeting information had to be handled manually.

The company is looking to the new integration to encourage more widespread adoption of the technology, as it eases the burden on IT administrators. “If we can make it so easy to use, so it’s like clicking a Live Meeting invite or clicking a YouTube connection, people will really start to use this,” Shay said.

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