Google is finally ready for a video conferencing commitment.
After years of switching between video calling platforms and intended audiences–such as when Google Hangouts replaced Google Talk–it has settled on a three-pronged lineup divided between social and business callers. Google Duo will be your social video chat service, although for now that’s a one-to-one only experience, and Hangouts has been split into two business platforms–Hangouts Meet for video and audio conferencing, and Hangouts Chat for Slack-style workflow collaboration.
To show its commitment, Google has released a Google Hangouts Meet hardware kit for the sole use of its business clients. It features an AI-guided 4K video camera, a touchscreen controller, and improved links to the G Suite range of office tools.
It also puts Hangouts Meet in a head-to-head fight with Microsoft’s Skype Room Systems touchscreen hardware that powers its Skype for Business users (now referred to as Skype Teams, again because of Slack).
As each hardware kit is tied specifically to a broader business package, this could be the first time a video conferencing decision was made based on which word processor you prefer–so are you a Microsoft Word or Google Docs fan?
The Google Hangouts Meet Hardware Kit
- A 4K camera with AI that Google says can automatically crop its broadcast to suit the room, and can recall people’s faces.
- A central touchscreen controller.
- An Asus Chromebox to manage all your meeting devices.
- A Google-developed speaker mic, which can be chained in groups of up to five for large rooms.
All that hardware is intended to make it easier to launch and join a video conference, and to scale the meeting to suit small groups all the way up to 50 callers from more than a dozen distinct locations. The whole kit retails for $1,999 (yes, we all still fall for the “0.99 cents” marketing scheme), plus you’ll have to pay for a G Suite subscription to make use of the improved links to things like Calendar and Drive and your favorite Google business apps.
If you’re a G Suite native already and you could use a new 4K webcam, this was built for you. If you’re not a committed Google fan, then Microsoft has an alternative you could consider.
Skype Room Systems
Unlike Google, Microsoft has long manufactured its own computer peripherals, including webcams. However, when it came time to simplify its conference room offerings it chose to parent with dedicated hardware developers Logitech, Crestron, and Polycom. The result was a series of technologies designed to do what the Meet hardware kit does–make video conferencing easier.
The first partnership to bear fruit was the Logitech SmartDock, launched at the end of 2016. Like the Meet package, Logitech’s hardware places a touchscreen hub at the center of everything, allowing users to initiate and join video meetings with one-touch simplicity. Unlike Meet, it doesn’t ship with extras like microphones and cameras, a fact which brings its price down to a much more appealing $599 (again with the 0.99 cents rule!). You could add Logitech’s own 4K camera, the Brio, for another $200 and Logitech’s top microphone array for around $400 to get a more competitive comparison. Again, you’ll have to buy a Skype Teams subscription to make it all go. As with the Google product, if you’re a paid-up Skype Teams subscriber this is a great way to make video conferencing a one-touch experience.
If you haven’t got an unshakeable faith in either video conferencing software, though, you could do worse than to just pick your favorite word processor.
Are You Microsoft or Google?
Of course, there’s a lot more to G Suite and Skype Teams than their flagship word processors, and these products are intended for different purposes. The Logitech SmartDock fills a niche for Skype users, while the Meet package is a grab-bag of independent items to demonstrate the business credentials of Google’s new video conferencing platform–and it serves as an update for the Asus Chromebox, which was initially released a few years ago.
Both setups can be scaled to fit small huddle rooms or large conference rooms, and each offers streamlined touchscreen operation which will please users terrified of the complexities of previous generations of video conferencing hardware.
It may have been expressed a little frivolously earlier, but you really are best off making this particular video conferencing decision based on the deeper offerings of G Suite and Skype Teams. If you’re not particularly impressed with either, head to the VC Daily reviews category and find a webcam and a video conference app that is more your style.