The Huddle Storm of 2019
This week, Polycom announced its new Studio USB Video Bar. The Studio can be used to convert a meeting room into a digital conference space by combining it with a display, PC, and your favorite conferencing application. It’s an impressive device in an increasingly crowded sector roughly known as Huddle Rooms.
No matter which stat you use, there are a lot more analog (offline) meeting rooms than digital meeting rooms. That’s because digital rooms are expensive and intimidating — or at least they were. We are seeing the democratization of digital rooms as the technology has become affordable and intuitive. That’s good because concurrently we are seeing the end of the nuclear workgroup that could all meet together in a nearby room.
The upgrade to digital-ready, video-enabled conference room is minor, but there’s lots of variables to consider:
- CPU: There are two basic approaches. Either the huddle room has its own CPU or a participant brings their own (BYO laptop). There are benefits to both approaches. The dedicated CPU means the room is always ready, and in pre-booked situations the CPU is set for one-touch join. The benefit of BYO is familiarity. Users generally already know how to access their laptop and apps. If team members tend to already have laptops, then BYO is cheaper.
- Display: More and more of our content is digital, thus a digital display (television or projector) is practically required for collaboration. This can be as simple as an off-the-shelf HD TV to something more elaborate such as a touchscreen or large format projector.
- Audio: The audio is critical, yet easy to underestimate. Flat screen televisions don’t have great speakers, so there’s a tendency to use separate external speakers. Smaller rooms work fine with a basic table-top speaker saucer, but audio can get complicated quickly. It’s ideal to have the speaker(s) near the display as that places the sound near its visual source. On the other hand, microphones are best near the in-room participants. However, microphones near participants means paper shuffling, chair moving, and other background sounds can be a problem.
- Camera: When you watch television, you don’t think about the camera. You don’t hear the camera, see it, or appreciate the work of the operator. Too often, the cameras in video conferences are distracting. High resolution cameras enable digital pan, tilt, and zoom effects without motors. New technologies allow auto-framing without a camera operator. Cameras are available with a variety of lens and field of view appropriate for any sized room.
- Control and Remotes: The control element can’t be ignored either. There are lots of options such as IR remotes, radio remotes, and touch screen controllers. We need the systems to be simple and intuitive, but also secure. A conference can fail because of a missing remote or dead battery.
- Cabling: Cabling can get out of control and should not be an afterthought. One or two HDMI cables for the displays, another to the PC for content share, a USB cable to the PC, the PC also needs power, and the potentially separate speakers and microphones need cables too. All of these cables need to avoid walkways and chair wheels. Don’t forget that there are different types of connectors for displays and USB ports.
In addition to the device itself, organizations must also consider the portfolio. Since rooms exist in all shapes and sizes, managers should consider the entire portfolio to ensure a consistent experience. Huddle room equipment is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
There are simple HDMI dongle solutions such as Cisco Webex Share and LifeSize Share. There are tabletop solutions such as Logitech Connect, but the big category is front-of-room solutions available with varying features and capabilities.
The new Polycom Studio is an all-in-one, front-of-room solution. It features stereo speakers and a high resolution fixed camera with a 120 degree field of view that can support digital pan, tilt, and (5x) zoom. It’s one of the few single-device solutions with stereo speakers.
The Studio supports Polycom’s Acoustic Fence technology which blocks or suppresses sounds from outside its virtual work area. It also supports auto-framing and speaker tracking feature that utilizes both visual recognition and acoustic tracking technologies.
The Studio will most likely be compared to the Logitech MeetUp. Other notable recent front-of-room entrants in this space include the Cisco Room Kit Mini, Avaya HC020, and the Solaborate Hello 2. Logitech also recently expanded its Rally solution with related components.
The Polycom Studio is designed for 4-8 participants. It connects to a PC with a single USB 2.0 cable. It works with all the usual conferencing applications including Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Cisco Webex and is expected to be available in North America and Europe later this quarter.
Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz.