Audio leader Dolby no longer wants to be a peripheral in the video conferencing market.
The long-time supplier of speakers, conference phones, and cinematic entertainment devices has put together an all-in-one Dolby video conferencing package, complete with its own “smart” camera. The move is further evidence of the growing trend toward placing video at the center of corporate communications at the expense of established voice-only solutions.
That’s not the only trend Dolby is heeding. Its new Dolby Voice Room package is targeted at the hottest video conferencing venue in the U.S. workplace: the huddle room. And, its equipment is automated and touch-sensitive, in tune with the current video conferencing trend of delivering products for users, not IT experts.
The technology baked into its Dolby Voice Camera is state-of-the-art, making this new system a potential market leader straight out of the gate, provided if it can overcome one small detail: it’s really expensive.
A 4K, Wide-Angle, Smart Camera
The Dolby Voice Room is a bold first offering for a company that has, up until now, been a one-dimensional partner in video conferencing. As expected, it’s built around two existing products, the Dolby Conference Phone and the Dolby Voice Hub. The conference phone includes dynamic leveling, which distinguishes between spoken and background noise (filtering out the latter), and can automatically adjust volume levels to maintain a consistent sound even if callers move around the room.
But the Dolby Voice Room also includes a product even more impressive: the Dolby Voice Camera. It contains all the features of the best webcam technology currently available from manufacturers who’ve been at it for years, including:
- Auto framing, which adjusts the view to capture everyone in a room, even if they move
- 4K visuals
- High Dynamic Range mapping that automatically corrects for lighting and supplies a broader palette of colors
- Wide-angle lens with 100-degree field of view
- Auto zoom and pan
- Whiteboard recognition that can “ghost out” anyone who walks in front of the surface
You can see all these features in action in Dolby’s promotional video below – just be aware the video has been edited and staged in optimal conditions, so it’s a “perfect world” presentation, not an authentic test.
We won’t get our own chance to test the equipment until it goes on sale later this year, but the camera alone appears to be comparable to any other device being offered in the (now) crowded huddle room market.
Huddle Room Video Conferencing
It has been estimated that 67% of all video conferencing equipment will be deployed within huddle rooms, and open spaces, by 2020. These small, multi-purpose meeting rooms are becoming more popular as the workforce becomes more mobile and flexible. It’s predicted half of U.S. workers will telecommute half of the time by the close of the next decade.
It’s understandable, then, that the hardware end of the video conferencing market is keen to provide versatile huddle room solutions. Those formerly dedicated to fitting out grand conference rooms—such as Cisco, Polycom, and Starleaf—have now produced scaled-down versions of their products just like Dolby.
Additionally, usually software-focused players like Microsoft and Google have partnered with hardware manufacturers to make huddle room kits of their own, like the Skype Room System and the Google Meet Kit.
Finally, webcam leader Logitech has produced a couple of its own dedicated huddle room cameras, the ConferenceCam Connect and the MeetUp. That last offering should be a particular concern for Dolby, as it too can provide 4K visuals, auto framing (as revealed at the recent Enterprise Connect convention) high dynamic range, and a wide-angle view—and it comes at a fraction of the price of the Dolby Voice Room product.
Quality at a Cost
The Dolby Voice Room system costs $4,500. Here’s a simple comparison:
- The Google Meet Kit costs $1,749.99
- The Logitech version of a Skype Room System costs $599 (although this is just for the hub, and doesn’t include software or cameras). A fully-equipped Skype Room System using a MeetUp camera will run about $3,000
- A StarLeaf GTm 5140 Skype for Business room system costs $3,995
- Cisco’s Spark Room kit costs $3,990 and comes complete with voice, face, and smartphone recognition and activation
As you can see, Dolby is jumping straight into the expensive end of the huddle room market. And bear in mind, you still must buy a screen to display all those wonderful camera tricks, and you’ll need a subscription to either the BlueJeans or Highfive video conferencing platform to get the optimal performance, as these are Dolby’s preferred vendors.
Dolby’s system, especially the 4K camera, is making all the right promises as a huddle room solution. But, until the Voice Room starts performing in the real world, we couldn’t recommend you part with that much money over a more established brand like Cisco or Microsoft. If you’re new to the huddle room experience, we’d recommend you begin by investing in a high-quality camera and a high-quality display and running your meeting through a laptop—it should be less than half the price for a comparable experience with, admittedly, fewer bells and whistles.