Microsoft Grooms Skype for Business for Rooms
Creates new initiative to video-enable conference rooms, pulls in Logitech and Polycom as initial partners.
Apparently taking the old saying "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again" to heart, Microsoft once again touted solutions for video-enabling conference rooms from the keynote stage at Enterprise Connect, which took place last week. This time its approach applies to a wider range of rooms, and involves new solutions from Logitech and Polycom.
We live in digital times, but too many of our meeting facilities remain analog, with basic whiteboards, speakerphones, and simple displays and projectors. Many vendors have introduced "huddle room" solutions that are meant to make video conferencing more accessible to and cost-effective for small and medium corporate meeting spaces.
During his keynote, Zig Serafin, corporate VP of Skype Business Services at Microsoft, previewed plans to bring an experience inspired by the Microsoft Surface Hub to meeting rooms with standard displays and projectors. This initiative, called Project Rigel, uses a Surface Pro 4 tablet to provide a centralroom control point. Attendees simply touch the screen to start previously scheduled meetings, and they utilize a familiar UI to control views of content and participants.
The Logitech solution combines a new Surface Pro 4-specific dock with its recently announced Group or Connect ConferenceCam kits. For example, the new Logitech Group ConferenceCam includes a 10x optical zoom lens, wireless remote, and high-fidelity acoustic base capable of supporting up to 20 participants. An HDMI port supports standard displays and projectors. The dock provides the Surface Pro 4 interfaces for audio, video, and touch.
Logitech has not published pricing for its Project Rigel solution; however, the ConferenceCam systems run from $249 to $1,249. This new Project Rigel solution also will require the cost of the Surface Pro 4 and Logitech dock, plus, of course, a room display.
Polycom Plays On
Polycom is building Project Rigel solutions for the CX5100 Unified Conference Station and Group RealPresence Trio collaboration hub. Both solutions are expected later this year. All Project Rigel solutions require a Windows 10 PC, and some will only support audio conferencing.
A year ago, during his 2015 Enterprise Connect keynote, Serafin referenced the massive opportunity associated with video-enabling conference rooms. He then previewed two Skype for Business solutions: the co-branded Polycom RoundTable 100 and the Surface Hub. Neither of these has come to market. Microsoft and Polycom terminated development of the RoundTable last fall, and the Surface Hub, after several delays, is now expected this spring.
The Surface Hub is conceptually similar to the Lync Room System/Skype Room System solution launched in 2013, but features a full-powered embedded Windows10 PC. These solutions leverage touchscreen technology to create visual conferencing and electronic whiteboarding. They are not compatible with standard displays or projectors.
The Project Rigel solutions, in turn, are conceptually similar to the RoundTable 100, which was to have used a separate PC for processing and a mobile phone for control. The Surface Pro effectively replaces both devices, and provides a consistent user interface. Rigel's in-room accessories should ensure better sound.
Video at Large
Can't wait? At last week's Enterprise Connect, Logitech and Polycom each announced solutions outside of the Project Rigel initiative.
Logitech, for example, announced bundles that use either the Group or Connect ConferenceCams with an Intel NUC mini PC that runs the Intel Unite collaboration application. These solutions are designed for in-room content sharing and conferencing with several services including Skype for Business, Zoom, BlueJeans, Skype, Google Hangouts, Cisco Jabber, and others. These bundles will be available in April starting at $1,599, Logitech said.
And Polycom announced that its Group Series video solutions will now soon integrate with Skype for Business Online with Office 365, and the platform will offer an optional Skype for Business-like UI. Later this year, Microsoft and Polycom intend to launch a video interoperability service hosted on Azure and integrated into Office 365.
Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.