A Room With A View

by Dave Michels

Somewhere within the hard phone v softphone debate is an emerging class of collaborative endpoints. These are devices and/or accessories that facilitate collaboration. It’s a new and growing category of hardware that lies between an app and a device. I really do like hard phones over softphones, but I want more than just dialtone from them. The following products represent some out-of-the-booth thinking.

Mitel MiVoice Video Unit

Mitel introduced its MiVoice Video Unit more than a year ago making it the earliest of the devices in this post. It was likely looking to take the speaker saucer to the next level, and ended up with two Android products for audio and video collaboration. However, the video unit doesn’t actually include a camera or display. Instead, it offers a four port video bridge that can be used for video or content sharing.

These devices were Mitel’s first SIP-only endpoints. Mitel supports SIP across its portfolio, but most Mitel endpoints have SIP and MiNet; Mitel’s proprietary protocol. Since these are SIP-only, they really could be used on non-Mitel platforms. At a minimum they are high-end SIP speaker saucers with beam forming microphones and a large speaker. The enhanced value lies in the OS’s ability to share content.

The Android OS can access Google Docs, Office files, Join.me, and Dropbox – basically it serves the content. For screen sharing it supports RDP. For video conferencing, the saucers can be paired with an IP video camera. RDP and IP cameras can be a bit complex, but are less expensive (and sometimes simpler) than room systems. Presumably the devices support the Vidyo client because of the partnership between the firms, but I haven’t verified.

It’s an interesting concept. Very appropriate speaker saucer and simple low cost video bridge, but without a video-in port for PC or camera, it can be intimidating to set-up.

These next two solutions from Vaddio and Logitech are positioned as peripherals to extend the value of desktop collaboration software. Both solutions transform personal desktop solutions into practical room solutions. They both connect to the desktop via USB, and offer an external camera, enhanced audio/microphone, and a video-out for in-room display. That’s where the similarities end. The Vaddio is about three times the price, and arguably worth it.

Vaddio HuddleSTATION

The Vaddio Huddlestation is an intriguing device introduced about six months ago. Vaddio is mostly associated with video cameras, but this device could provide a simple room system. Like the Mitel, at a minimum it can replace an existing speaker saucer. It can also replace an in-room projector because it has DVI and HDMI inputs and an HDMI output for a wall screen.

The Huddlestations come in two models designed for different sized groups. The Huddlestation saucer connects to a bar intended for wall mount that has a video camera. The bar has the video-out intended for the wall mounted display. Unlike any other device I’ve seen, it doesn’t have any video software or codecs – intentionally.

For collaboration with remote attendees, the Huddlestation depends on BYO applications. It will work with Lync, WebEx, Vidyo, and just about any collaboration/video application as it is only emulating a universal USB webcam and audio device -no specialized drivers are necessary. What’s particularly clever is a built in video mixing capability. A user can send picture in picture video – perhaps a screen share with live video inset. The application doesn’t need to support two pictures because the mixed picture is fed to the software as a single feed. It can mix any two of its three sources – DVI (PC), HDMI (iPad), and live camera.

Vaddio expects to release a version later this year that will support USB 3.0. Setup is done via a web browser, and the video inputs are selected with hard keys on top of the saucer. Vaddio believes that on-board hardware compression shortens a product’s useful life as technology is changing so quickly (H.264 AVC/SVC, H.265, VP8, VP9).

Logitech cc3000e

I’ve been a big fan of the Logitech BCC950 solution for some time. It is an all-in-one USB accessory for a small conference room or side-table that includes a camera, speaker, and microphone. Now, Logitech has blown-up the concept for larger rooms. The new CC3000e has 3 components: A USB power hub, an HD PTZ camera, and a speaker saucer.

The CC3000e is strictly a peripheral, in other words it has no use without a computer attached to it. However, it can transform a laptop with a personal collaboration solution into a practical room system (BYO display) on the fly for about $1k (about a third of the Vaddio price). The computer connects to the USB hub, and there’s slack for up to 32’ between the wired camera and the saucer. It also comes with a remote control, and unlike the BCC950, the remote fits into the base unit for storage. Logitech’s quality construction, mass production, and wide distribution coupled with an impressive optical PTZ lens, quality acoustics, and your software – makes this a viable room system for “sub $1k.”

Logitech and Vaddio believe that the personal apps makes sense for room systems. There’s some contention because they were inherently designed for one person’s personal use. However, with the move toward HD cameras and bigger screens for playback there’s logic to the vision. Plus, personal software is more likely to be intuitive or at least familiar than many traditional room systems.

Cisco DX650

I’ve written before about the Cisco DX Series. It is a complete desktop positioned as a high-end desktop device. It is a new breed and Cisco hinted more models would be coming (it is a series)–but for now, it’s just the DX650. Perhaps we will see new models at Enterprise Connect next month. This device combines excellent acoustics, an HD camera, and HD display into an Android-based desktop appliance. It can run apps from Google Play and also comes with Cisco optimized applications. It brings the mobile app functionality to to a wired device with a 7” screen. It has APIs and smarts about things like Bluetooth proximity.

I will keep it brief here, and offer my earlier post for more details.

All of these solutions make video collaboration easier and cheaper than traditional room systems.

Honorable mentions go to ShoreTel and NEC for their Dock/Cradle devices. A dock or cradle device provides a means of making mobile devices more practical as a desktop solution. Mobile devices, particularly in a mobile first world, are indeed collaborative endpoints themselves.

I will follow-up on this post with some interesting video services soon.