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Cisco Reloads Its Video Portfolio

It seems like ages ago that Cisco first moved into video with the launch of its immersive TelePresence systems, and its subsequent acquisition of Tandberg. Post-acquisition, the entire industry benefitted from the marketing muscle that Cisco brought to a market that had floundered for years. John Chambers and other Cisco executives told us that video would be the new voice, and we had several years where the video industry saw sustained growth as businesses deployed video systems to enhance corporate collaboration and slash travel budgets.

A couple of years ago though, the growth in video infrastructure slowed down, causing some to wonder, is the video industry dead? It's a fair question, as many of the research firms that track markets have forecasted slow to no growth for video infrastructure over the next several years.

So what's the problem with video? Does it really not provide enough value for businesses to continue invest in? In fact, a survey I ran towards the end of last year showed that workers who use video are using the systems more than ever before. The problem is that the barrier to get more users to use video remains high, as traditional corporate solutions can be difficult to deploy and even harder to use.

Today, Cisco unveiled its biggest video portfolio update in the company's history, and the new products are designed to put high-quality video everywhere, in businesses of all sizes, so video can finally be a ubiquitous resource. The new portfolio is built on the design concept of simplicity, which is what Cisco's Collaboration BU GM, Rowan Trollope, had alluded to at last year's Collaboration Summit. During his keynote at that event, he admitted that despite some great technical innovation, the products were just too complicated for customers to take advantage of en masse, so it was refreshing to me to see Cisco this week talking the talk that Trollope had started almost a year ago.

The new products include a number of additions to the MX line. The MX 200 G2 is a 42" all-in-one system designed for smaller rooms, which works "out of the box" with HD resolution. The MX 700 and MX 800 are integrated solutions designed for medium and large-size conference rooms; these also have HD resolution and offer H.265 support, which can cut bandwidth requirements in half. These larger, integrated room systems support up to three screens and multiple content sources, making them ideal for large, virtual meetings.

The new SX10 Quick Set "snaps on" to regular flat panel TVs that are widely deployed today in office buildings and conference rooms. Although Cisco didn't provide any details on pricing, I was told the product sells for less than the cost of a PC, making it affordable for any company. Additionally, it can be unboxed and set up in less than 10 minutes. Small businesses with small or no IT staffs can still bring in high quality video and start using the systems almost immediately.

The product that I thought was the most interesting in this launch was the SpeakerTrack 60. This is a dual camera system where the first camera shows the entire room and the second camera quickly zooms in on the active speaker and displays that as the primary image (see below).

The product uses facial recognition technology and voice triangulation to track the active speaker as they move around the room, and then automatically switches to the next speaker as her or she begins to talk. This should allow for a much more effective meeting with seamless transitions from speaker to speaker.

Pervasive video requires more than just new endpoints; it must provide interworking with other devices. All of the new endpoints will be outfitted with Cisco's Intelligent Proximity technology. This technology automatically senses when smart phones and tablets have been brought into the session and will prompt the user to add the device to the conversation. Once "paired," the worker can view shared material, save slides and review content without having to have the presenter go back and replay anything.

The research I conducted at the end of last year clearly showed that video usage begets more video usage. It's among the stickiest of collaboration tools, and once users get a taste of high-quality, easy-to-use video, they'll continue to use it. The challenge is getting more businesses and more workers to try it. The lower price points and ease of deployment should remove many legacy barriers with getting users to try video.

These announcements precedes Rowan Trollope's keynote at Enterprise Connect, so I can't be 100% sure of the context that the new products will have in any kind of broader messaging Cisco may have at the event. Despite that, it's certainly good to see Cisco focus less on technology for technology's sake and more on technology that removes the barriers that have held video back from being a pervasive resource.

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You can still register and attend Enterprise Connect to see Rowan Trollope's keynote! All levels of passes get admission to keynotes. Go here to register!