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Polycom Beefs Up Meeting Room Experience

In a world of video meetings, "Good enough is not good enough" -- a reminder from Michael Frendo, EVP of worldwide engineering at Polycom, in explaining the motivation behind the company's two latest video conferencing products: Immersive Studio Flex and EagleEye Director II.

With the products, introduced today, Polycom aims to improve the meeting room experience for in-room and virtual participants, Frendo told me in a phone briefing.

Immersive Studio Flex
Immersive Studio Flex is a customizable meeting room solution comprising high-definition audio and an 18-foot video wall made up of three 4K UltraHD display screens, as seen below. Besides the audio and video communications, Immersive Studio Flex supports content sharing and offers Skype for Business functionality.

Polycom Immersive Studio Flex

"It seems the UC industry has focused so much on improving virtual meetings that it has forgotten about the need for people to meet in person," said UC analyst and Polycom watcher Zeus Kerravala, when I reached out to him for comment. "The Immersive Studio Flex room does a nice job of blending the physical and virtual meeting spaces so workers can begin working immediately instead of wasting time fiddling with technology."

The "Flex" part of its name comes from the fact that the solution is meant to be flexible and customizable to fit a business's particular room, rather than the other way around, "saving businesses potentially thousands of dollars per room," Kerravala added. "The 18-foot video wall is ideal for agile teams that need to have that lifelike experience where there is no difference between being there and being remote."

EagleEye Director II
EagleEye Director II is the latest version of the company's technology for tracking speakers in a room. The camera, shown below, automatically zooms in on an active speaker and pans out when the discussion includes more than one person. But it goes a couple steps further than that, Frendo told me. If there are only three people in a 20-person meeting room, only those three people will be framed in the shot. Speakers are framed in such a way as to allow virtual meeting attendees to get both the context of the room and the active speakers. A picture-in-picture display of the room and speaker allows attendees to focus on the speaker while also taking in body language and reactions of those in the room.

Polycom EagleEye Director II

The EagleEye Director II camera "automates the process of having video follow the user so workers are free to move about the immersive space," Kerravala said. "Without it, meeting participants must constantly manually adjust the camera, which can be distracting and reduces the effectiveness of the meeting."

As some Polycom watchers will know, the company has had the original EagleEye Director on the market for about four years; it has a 20-foot camera range and 10x zoom and can find the speaker and zoom accordingly. The EagleEye Director II features a 35-foot camera range and 12x zoom. The biggest enhancement, though, is the Director II's ability to provide that picture-in-picture display and, thus, the context of the room.

In addition, EagleEye Director II introduces an analytics engine that counts the number of people in a room and provides insight into meeting space use. With this intelligence, large enterprises should be able to get an accurate view of how they're leveraging their meeting spaces and insight on how to optimize their use. For example, the data could point to a trend that has larger rooms going unused while smaller huddle rooms surge in popularity. Some IT departments have even reported using this intelligence to secure additional funding for technology or infrastructure to support the way employees are working, Frendo said.

The New Agile Polycom
Industry watchers will recall that Polycom made quite a stir in the summer months, first pursued for acquisition by Mitel in April before private equity firm Siris Capital stepped in with a better offer in July. Since going private, Mary McDowell has become Polycom's new CEO and the company seems to be operating under a new set of priorities, as Wainhouse Research's Ira M. Weinstein wrote for No Jitter in October.

"As we become much more agile as a company, being able to add new capabilities and new services over time, we are building platforms that allow us to do that," Frendo said, adding that Polycom is in the midst of transitioning to Agile development. But Agile isn't just about quick development -- it's also about better serving customers, he noted. "Agile is about how you interact with customers, how you keep deploying new capabilities, how you meet your requirements, how often you release a new capability. ... It's about being able to react to changes in the market and customer requirements quickly."

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