“Traditional, on-premises video conferencing is dying, as today’s organizations look for a more practical solution for connecting and engaging their workforce.”
With those words, CEO Craig Molloy breathed new life into video conferencing vendor Lifesize and released the company from its hardware-centric shackles. Two years after that statement, Lifesize has largely dumped its on-premises business strategy and joined the rest of the 21st century’s leading video calling platforms in the cloud.
The result is a video conferencing software platform that’s as easy to use, flexible, and feature-filled as any on the market. And Lifesize hasn’t totally shed its hardware roots. An annual subscription of at least $16 a month per user includes an HD webcam, while the top end package of $23 a month per user ships with five.
That’s a point of difference few cloud-based video platforms can match and one that could tip the balance ahead of more popular rivals such as Zoom and BlueJeans that have comparable subscription rates–although cheap webcam prices do dilute some of that appeal.
No Lifesize video conferencing review is complete without acknowledging the company’s background–and the fact that it’s playing a game of catch-up–but it is safe to say the switch to the cloud has made the product a viable business option, with or without the added hardware.
Web, Mobile, Browser
Lifesize hasn’t been half-hearted in its transition from in-room hardware solution to cloud-based software platform. The downloadable app can have even a home office computer connected to the wide world of video calling within minutes–there’s a free trial available in exchange for your email and phone number.
You can communicate only with other Lifesize users, but there’s a handy browser-based meeting tool that allows you to stage one-off conferences with non-members via WebRTC-compatible browsers Chrome, Edge, and Explorer 11 (browser-based video calling uses the built-in powers of your platform to conduct video calls without permanent software downloads).
That’s as far removed from on-premises video calling as you can get. Any guest you invite to such a meeting doesn’t even need to know how to spell Lifesize in order to join you in a face-to-face conversation. Most of your calls, however, are more likely to make use of Lifesize’s web and mobile platforms. The service is available across Windows desktop, iOS, and Android, which should give you enough flexibility to conduct business wherever you happen to be.
Which leads us to the heart of the matter: the meeting experience.
Flexible and Functional, Without Real Thrills
The Lifesize video meeting experience will feel familiar to anyone who has used a major cloud-based video app such as Zoom or BlueJeans. The central screen accommodates up to 25 or up to 50 callers at a time, based on your subscription. The layout follows the now-standard tiled presentation, with everyone’s window decreasing in size as more people enter the room. It’s not a revolution in video presentation by any means, but it is certainly up to the industry standard.
Our review suffered from an alarming amount of lag between just two callers, which made the conversation rather a mess–but we are always willing to forgive a video platform a poor network connection. Still, use that free trial to test the capacity of your system to handle Lifesize’s requirements; we didn’t experience such problems with Skype or Zoom under the same conditions.
Those potential gremlins aside, Lifesize offers a decent set of features, including:
- Screen sharing
- Call recording
- Moderator controls
- Live streaming
- Breakout rooms
- Email and calendar integration with Outlook and Google
- Skype for Business interoperability (not reviewed)
Lifesize also offers some flexibility in terms of features, advertising the ability to customize a plan so that you pay only for the features you use. We’ll note here that a couple of comments about features we came across often in user reviews–though we didn’t test Lifesize long enough to run into the same problems ourselves–is that Lifesize only offers ten hours of recording time and that the maximum number of meeting participants, even for the most expensive “bundle” option, is 50. The latter seems especially skimpy given that Zoom’s free version allows 100 participants.
As will be the case with many users, we were unable to access the high end of Lifesize’s promised 4K calling. It’s still a bit too soon to expect 4K video conferencing to be a regular meeting requirement even in professional video conferences, but it’s nice to know Lifesize has the display in mind once our connections catch up.
Finally, there is the “set of steak knives”: the camera.
Software with a Hardware Twist
Lifesize is one of very few video vendors to make its own hardware–a legacy of that in-room origin. As we mentioned at the top, basic subscriptions include the company’s basic webcam model the Icon 400. This PTZ camera offers true HD at 1080p and is designed for small meeting spaces. It looks like a solid home office or small business device, without being overly impressive.
When you consider that Microsoft is the only leading video vendor to produce its own hardware–depending on how you feel about Facebook’s status as a professional video platform–it is a rare offering. The current trend is to pair a video software service with a camera from a dedicated manufacturer. Given that a comparable HD webcam to the Icon 400 will likely cost less than $100 outright, the only real advantage to the Lifesize solution is that you get both device and platform support and upgrades from a single source. And, if your business is interested in a camera from another manufacturer, Lifesize’s bundles are a drawback, since they tie you to using only Icon cameras with the Lifesize software.
With or without the webcam in the equation, the conclusion that we came to while working on this Lifesize video conferencing review is that the service still stacks up against its price-range peers. If you are currently happy with your Zoom, BlueJeans, or Teams subscription, we’re not convinced there’s anything here that will cause you any video envy, but if you’re new to the professional video calling game, Lifesize is worth consideration.
That’s an achievement in itself for a service that just a few years ago was an aging hardware relic.