Polycom Offers Telepresence System for $6,000

Updated: June 24, 2009

These days, SMBs (small to medium-size businesses) are trying to cut spending wherever they can. One of the fattest targets for cutting is travel expenses. As a result, many companies are trying to use video communication as a substitute for getting on planes. But low-cost methods, such as PC-to-PC video calling, are a poor substitute for face-to-face meetings, while the better-quality method, known as telepresence, has been beyond the financial reach of many. A new product Polycom is offering for just under $6,000 brings high-quality video communication a lot closer.

The HDX 6000 "room telepresence" system has a recommended starting price of $5,999. The basic system includes a video codec in a box, along with high-definition camera, microphone, remote control and cables. The camera has 12x optical zoom, and a 72-degree field of view. The microphone picks up voices within a 15-foot radius. The box connects to any HD-capable TV or monitor via an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) cable. It also accepts connection from a PC if users want to share PowerPoint slides or other documents in addition to, or instead of, their video images.

The system is as easy to use as it is to buy. It doesn't require much bandwidth to produce a high-quality video stream, according to Bob Knauf, Polycom product manager for video endpoints. A connection of as little as 256 Kbps can transmit DVD-quality video, with resolution of 704 x 576 at 30 FPS. Boosting bandwidth to 832 Kbps delivers true HD video, with resolution of 1,280 x 720. Naturally, the system supports HD voice as well. Polycom also uses a technology it calls Lost Packet Recovery to ensure the quality of video traveling over IP networks of less-than-optimal reliability, such as the Internet.

Such high-quality video provides a big advantage over PC-and-Web-cam video conferencing, since it allows visual links between groups of people in rooms rather than individuals at desks. As a result, it's a credible substitute for meeting in person, and much better than traditional voice-only conference calls, Knauf claims. "Telephones can do a lot of things, but it's difficult building relationships over the phone," he explained. "Emotions come across much more over video." And at the price, the equipment can quickly pay for itself, Knauf added. Several domestic trips can add up to $6,000, he noted, as can just a couple of international trips.

Of course, conducting meetings by video rather than in person requires the room at the other end to have compatible equipment. Thus it's a big help that the HDX 6000 is standards-based. It communicates with any other H.323-based high-definition video endpoint and is SIP compatible. That means it can work directly with video conferencing devices from LifeSize, Sony and Tandberg, among others. It can also communicate with Cisco video equipment, as long as that gear is behind a gateway that translates between Cisco's proprietary protocol and H.323. Polycom also provides client software for PCs that lets their users communicate with H.323 equipment via Web cams and headsets.

Small businesses that sell to enterprises may be particularly well positioned to use low-cost video conferencing equipment. That's because the larger companies that are their customers are likely to already have their own in-house video capabilities. Offering to hold a video meeting is a good way to impress such customers with how cost-conscious and tech-savvy one's company is. And one big sale to them will be worth many times the price of the equipment.

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