If at first you don’t succeed, simplify, simplify, simplify.
That seems to have been Microsoft’s mantra for its latest attempt at creating an all-in-one video conference room hub. And their new approach looks to have yielded a promising way for businesses of any size to create always-ready video calling rooms.
Unveiled on day one of the tech giant’s week-long Ignite conference in Atlanta, the new series of Skype Room Systems are the end product of Project Rigel, a collaboration between Microsoft, Logitech, Crestron, and Polycom that was announced in March with the promise it would transform the conference room.
While the tablet-powered tech isn’t quite a wow-we-have-flying-cars kind of revolution, it does deliver a VC hub at the fraction of the cost of previous Microsoft room offerings, and provided you’re happy using Skype for Business and the chosen trio of hardware manufacturers’ cameras and audio, it promises a simple way to quickly get a video conference started.
The Past Is Video Prologue
Previous attempts at creating conference room systems around Skype for Business (or Lync, as it was once known) failed to find a broad audience, largely due to cost and complexity. Microsoft gave a bunch of VC hardware specialists a crack at creating a single-point service, but most retailed for 5-figure price tags, and few made it below even the $5000 mark.
These earlier systems also required a complex installation process, and came with many components, which made it hard for any of them to win a place in the hearts of smaller companies that just wanted to see what all the video conferencing fuss was about.
So this new Skype for Business system, with its much lower price point and relatively simple setup, comes as something of a peace offering to those small businesses and offers large companies the opportunity to do mass deployments. It remains to be seen if the system can deliver on its promises.
Video Conferencing Powered by Tablet
Each of the video conferencing hardware vendors involved in the project has developed a system, and all will deliver within the next 6 months. Logitech is the first to go retail, with its SmartDock system to reach customers in November. Crestron’s version will likely be out by year’s end, with Polycom to launch 2017.
The SmartDock is, as the name suggests, a (permanent) docking station that acts the way your computer does to generate, join, and host video conference calls. All you need to do to begin a meeting is start a call from the SmartDock, which then acts as the UI as you launch or join a meeting with touch screen efficiency. If it’s a scheduled event, then simply click on the calendared meeting. If it’s an ad-hoc call, you can use the Skype directory to begin and invite others to join. If you added content to your meeting invite, you can also share that directly from SmartDock.
Once connected to your projector or screen, and your VC webcam and audio–both Logitech conference cams and other “qualified devices” will work–you can leave it set up in your chosen video conference room and forget about it until needed. It’ll even turn itself off when the room is empty, and back on again when it detects movement nearby. And the SmartDock can be locked in place to prevent mischief.
You can also directly plug-in a laptop and share all its contents with everyone in the call.
It looks very easy to use, and it can be paired with a sold-separately extender box to shrink all the wiring down to a single cable that should leave your conference room clean and uncluttered.
Instant VC Meetings
We’ve written about the possibility of creating an ever-ready VC room before–with a little help from Uma Thurman–and the SmartDock fits neatly into that idea.
What we wanted was a way to quickly transfer any in-room meeting to a video call, and to be able to bring all the current working files along with it. We wanted to have a VC room at our disposal that didn’t require any cumbersome wiring or adjustments to the tech or the existing furniture and in-room space every time it was used.
It seems the SmartDock could hit those notes.
Bottomline though, the real appeal here may be the price tag. The SmartDock itself has an MSRP of $599, and will be sold through Logitech and Microsoft partners. They will be offering packages that include the dock and related components as well as two options featuring Logitech conference cameras, should you be starting from scratch or find your existing tech isn’t compatible.
Cheap at Twice the Price
The SmartDock purports to suit any sized business, but if you’re from the modest end of town the relatively low cost could be your primary consideration. For Skype for Business users, or those yet to commit to a VC platform, the SmartDock joins a relatively short list of products that will provide a central hub service without pushing $1000.
In terms of these reasonably priced small business options, Logitech itself already has the Connect, which is designed for groups of about a half dozen, and is mobile enough to let you conduct a meeting anywhere you can mount a video screen.
Similarly, the soon to be released Owl, from Owl Labs, has been touted as offering that same mobility and simple, central service with a nice bonus of a 360 degree camera…which we will believe when we see.
In conclusion, if your company wants ease of use, a reasonable price, and is already planning to use or currently using Skype for Business, the SmartDock is a temptingly simple solution. And stay tuned, as we’ll also be delving into the Crestron and Polycom Skype Room System offerings as those go on the market to see what they’ve achieved.
Images courtesy of Logitech