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Cisco Room Kit EQX and Campfire Blueprint Offer Flexible Meeting Configurations

Two new room systems from Cisco show how much the industry has changed in the past few years. Last month, Cisco hosted the WebexOne conference and made numerous calling, meeting, and chatting announcements. I want to focus on two new room solutions, the Room Kit EQX and campfire. First, let me summarize some of the more significant video/meetings-related announcements.

  • New audio codec: offers efficiency and reliability gains with generative AI
  • Real-time Media Module (RMM)(detects non-verbal communication cues — which LLMs don’t.
  • A new Super Resolution for video capability that offers higher quality video over less bandwidth.
  • Multistream on Webex meetings
  • Sovereign Controls (this is relevant for EU data residency)
  • Cinematic Meetings – more on this below.

Cisco has been producing video room systems for over 20 years. During this period, there have been a few clear trends, such as larger room systems, the shift toward room kits, ongoing resolution improvements, and increased interoperability.

The systems-getting-bigger trend likely peaked in 2015. That was the year Cisco introduced the Immersive Telepresence IX5000 system. It offered three 70” screens. It came in a box 12’ long and was the largest physical product Cisco sold. This particular solution even came with a table designed to match the shape of the video solution. In addition to presenting challenges for distribution logistics, these systems were difficult to sell because the design required a room to be a specific size and shape.

Cisco’s Room Kit

Two years later, Cisco sold its first Room Kit, a solution which could be said to have sparked an explosion in video bars. The idea was to put the camera(s), a computing engine, speakers, and microphones into a single device to be paired with customer-provided displays. This gave the customer more flexibility in creating their rooms. They could select the size and brand of the displays and mount the Room Kit above or below them.

The Room Kit was for small rooms, but soon after, Cisco launched the Room Kit Plus and the Room Kit Mini to address rooms of different sizes. The Mini was the first Cisco room bar to feature a USB pass-thru mode that allowed it to be used as an appliance with Webex or as a USB peripheral for a PC or laptop running Webex or other meeting applications — this feature is now on all Cisco Rook Kits. 

Leaping ahead to 2023, Cisco’s new Room Kit EQX is the vendor’s newest and biggest room kit. Like the other room kits, it doesn’t include the displays. It is designed to accommodate numerous styles of large rooms, offered with multiple mounting options, thus eliminating the need for bespoke speaker designs by AV specialists.

As far as interoperability goes, the EQX can be used in native Webex environments or native Microsoft Teams environments including support for the Front Row experience. The customer can choose their collaborative meeting platform, and regardless of choice, the EQX can still run the other application without a reboot. Also, both native solutions support interoperability with Zoom and other platforms as well.

Cisco’s Room Kit approach has proven to be very versatile compared to the turnkey appliance model. It is great to see Cisco accommodating so many rooms and platforms with a single kit, the question now is can we take this a step further?

All Around the Cisco (Conceptual) Campfire

Cisco’s campfire is not a room kit, appliance, or even a hardware product. It’s a concept or a structured assembly of standard parts. Campfire is a new hardware configuration for meeting spaces. Cisco intended for it to be placed in the center of the room. Meeting participants sit on all four sides. It’s conceptually similar to the Centro which Polycom sold 2015-2019.

Centro was an innovative solution. It featured a proprietary Polycom 360-degree camera at its center, and it had a screen on each of its four sides to show remote participants or content. The Centro could only be used with Polycom’s RealPresence video solutions in part due to its 360-degree camera. It came in one size and was optimized for meetings with about 8 participants.

Campfire is different than the Centro in several important ways. First, it’s just a parts list (or blueprint), it’s not a product that can be purchased. Nor is it a complete appliance, it’s more of a room kit that allows customers to customize its design, size, and configuration. Lastly, it does not use proprietary hardware or software. The concept is designed to work with other platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, in the future.

Cisco calls campfire a “blueprint” and is offering its partners and customers a parts list to build it. The key is that it isn’t using any new campfire parts – it’s all existing parts from Cisco or third parties. Campfire can be used for Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, and other platforms that support multiple cameras and streams as well as multiple displays.

Campfire is designed for a maximum of 16 participants, four on each side. The central element of campfire comprises four quad cameras and up to eight eye-level screens. Displayed content is positioned just below the conversation area on the table, reducing fatigue and cognitive load during discussions. Campfire can leverage all of the AI-powered benefits found within Webex, including people detection, speaker tracking, and noise removal.

Campfire delivers face-to-face communications. The participants in the room are facing each other and can naturally see each other’s faces (rather than the backs of heads). Remote participants are presented with a view of sixteen in-room participants. This experience is accomplished by Cisco RoomOS running locally on the hardware. This means the feature functionality can be unlocked to work with other meeting providers in the future. The design mitigates the impact of physical distance and ensures equitable participation in round table discussions.

All of Cisco's collaboration Kits and devices are managed through its Webex Control Hub. Cisco's product portfolio is designed to accommodate a wide range of users, use cases, and venues. Whether it's the Room Bar for ‘huddle’ and small spaces or the EQ and EQX for larger rooms, Cisco offers a spectrum of use cases and price points.

A final point worth highlighting is all Cisco room systems now include NVIDIA system-on-module. Cisco initiated a partnership with NVIDIA back in 2015, and built its RoomOS platform on the Jetson edge AI platform. This enables a variety of powerful features, such as the new Cinematic meetings feature, which uses multiple cameras to determine the best view of a presenter or group. The new Cisco room systems leverage AI both in the room and in the cloud.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.