Microsoft Takes Another Shot at Surface Hub Video Conferencing

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surface hub video conferencing could look like this: a huge tiled wall of screens

Microsoft is giving you another chance to be spectacular.

Following the launch of its first Surface Hub in 2015, the digital colossus is back with another version of wall-mountable, touchscreen sensitive, giant tablet presentation technology: the Surface Hub 2.

This new iteration is a little smaller than its predecessor, but it’s far more agile and it comes with a video conferencing focus, thanks to a detachable webcam. You can rotate the 50-inch tablet 90 degrees and, more impressively, tile units together to make art installation-quality displays across your office walls.

Spectacle is everything with the Surface Hub 2, but lining your video calling conference or huddle room with (reportedly) better-than-4k visuals is going to be expensive. So, the question becomes, how much are you willing to pay for Surface Hub video conferencing–especially when your colleagues on the other end of the call can’t benefit from your groovy new presentation screen?

Surface Hub: Video Conferencing at Its Most Beautiful

At the height of its hubris, Microsoft imagines the Surface Hub 2 as one of the defining items of the office of the future. Its marketing team has long been a front-runner in creating tech that makes big visual promises, and as you can see from the video below, they’re having a lot of melodramatic fun with the Surface Hub 2:

That’s a lot of sound and fury signifying what is, in essence, a really big iPad. Clearly, Microsoft has not been humbled by the delay-plagued original Surface Hub released little more than three years ago. That product, too, promised to reinvent conference presentations but ended up selling to relatively few customers. The main reason for this was price. The original Surface Hub cost between $9,000 and $21,000, depending on the model and additional features.

Microsoft has yet to assign a cost to the new version, but it would be reasonable to assume a similar range. At that price, the unit had better impress as much in function as it does in form.

Surface Hub 2 Features

Microsoft unveiled its new toy in mid-May without providing a price tag or specific release date (it won’t arrive until 2019). It did, however, include a list of features that promise to make it more than just a pretty face:

  • Multi-person fingerprint login
  • Multi-point stylus and touchscreen sensitivity, so more than one person can interact with the screen at once
  • Microsoft Teams optimization
  • Easel stand or wall mountable
  • 3×2 aspect ratio (rather than the standard 16×9)
  • Detachable 4k USB webcam

Not much has been revealed about the webcam, but the 50-inch video call display featured in the product demonstration looks very promising. Being optimized for Teams, you can assume that the Surface Hub 2 is capable of multi-person video calls, and for the file and screen sharing, live messaging, and integrated Office 365 features that platform delivers. The USB connectivity should also allow users to plug in their own web and conference cams, so even if the Microsoft version fails to impress, you could utilize other 4k models, such as the Logitech Brio.

Pairing 4k video conferencing with big touchscreen graphics would make the Surface Hub 2 a spectacular in-room presentation device, and that flexibility may be the only way companies beyond the Fortune 500 can justify spending so much on either aspect.

Is Your Business Big Enough for the Surface Hub 2?

In its early days, video conferencing was expensive and cumbersome enough to belong solely to the domain of big business, existing almost as a status symbol rather than a practical form of communication.

Those days are long, long gone. Today, video conferencing platforms such as Zoom charge less than $15 a month, there’s a big screen TV in every home, and a 4K camera capable of capturing an entire conference room costs less than $1,000. So why pay $9,000 for a Surface Hub 2?

Even if Microsoft aggressively prices its new device down to the range of the leading digital whiteboards that share its multi-person touchscreen functionality, such as the $5k-$6k Google Jamboard or Cisco Spark Board, that’s still a lot more than a traditional video conferencing setup. In fact, you can get Logitech’s new state-of-the-art group video conferencing system for less than $2,000, or Dolby’s Voice Room System for around $4,500, and those systems come with smart features that the Surface Hub 2 lacks, such as auto-framing and voice-recognition.

Microsoft’s new Surface Hub looks fantastic, and it would no doubt impress employees and clients alike with its slick interface and cinematic appearance. If, however, video conferencing is your focus, there’s much better value–and almost certainly better call quality–to be had by investing your money in camera quality and technology…even if that means you have to sacrifice a little on the spectacle.

Image from Shutterstock

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