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Unified communications, unified collaboration, telepresence or video-conferencing - whatever you call it, this is a market that is opening its doors and players old and new are scrambling through and aiming for the top. Brid-Aine Conway looks at the latest systems a business can use to talk to the world without leaving work.

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By  Brid-Aine Conway Published  February 10, 2008

Unified communications, unified collaboration, telepresence or video-conferencing - whatever you call it, this is a market that is opening its doors and players old and new are scrambling through and aiming for the top. Brid-Aine Conway looks at the latest systems a business can use to talk to the world without leaving work.

Polycom

Polycom is no stranger to the video-conferencing market, having specialised in unified collaboration since its inception in 1990.

Through its Middle East channel partner FVC, Polycom has begun supplying its RealPresence Experience High Definition (RPX HD) video-conferencing, along with a number of smaller HDX (high definition experience) systems.

Its first client was Georgetown University at Education City in Doha, which had high praise for the quality of the technology and the difference between "talking heads on a plasma screen" and "a common classroom reality" in last month's ACN.

RPX works as an entire room, whether boardroom style or theatre style, that is then mirrored at other sites. In practice, this means that the table, chairs and carpets are the same, as well as room size, to create the illusion of a single meeting or conference, something that is common in a lot of modern conferencing systems (sometimes referred to as telepresence).

Where Polycom differs is in some nifty innovations to complete that illusion. The video camera is in the middle of the screen, rather than above or below it, so when you look directly at participants on the screen, the camera captures you looking at them eye-to-eye.

The microphones hang down from the ceiling, capturing all sound, rather than having individual microphones for each participant located on the desk in front of them.

This allows for natural speech and movement rather than self-consciously leaning towards the microphone and also captures the ordinary background noise of the meeting rather than single voices in isolation.

Participants have screens tucked into the desk they're sitting at for sharing information like power-point presentations. The advantage is that instead of video of the other site being replaced by the presentation, participants at both sites are viewing the data together and can still interact with each other.

Having the technology tucked away, as well as the option to have the front table of the room actually touch the screen, conspires to make the illusion as real as possible for the participant.

As high-tech as RPX is, it also allows for low-tech participation. Some high end video-conferencing products can only be used within specific sites, but with RPX, cameras on the move, webcams and other IP cameras can be dialed into the meeting. So, for example, if a participant is late for a meeting and sitting on a train, they can still dial into the meeting on a mobile phone - hearing and speaking to the meeting if not also viewing it.

This last feature, coupled with the excellent design, makes Polycom's video-conferencing really shine.

Its demonstration in Paris featured input from a mobile phone (video and audio), a webcam and even a portable camera. Where a lot of newer technologies fail is in their incompatibility with older technologies, forcing enterprises to opt for a complete overhaul of existing systems.

Very few companies would want to install specially fitted rooms in every one of their sites, but with Polycom, enterprises have the option to install in the main offices and still have access to smaller locations (down to and including travelling salespeople).

Verdict

Polycom has a good formula with a high-tech well-designed system that makes room for the little guy.

Price: US$300,000 - $500,000 per room

Length of installation: 2 - 3 months

Size: approx 6m x 4.5m - 8.5m x 8.2m

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