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Friday, 3 August 2007

Microsoft's Office Roundtable video conference system - first thoughts.

Yesterday I had a demonstration of Microsoft's new Office Roundtable video conferencing system courtesy of Mark Deakin, the UK Product Manager for Unified Communications, at the company's Thames Valley Park headquarters. I shall be writing it up for the Audio and Video Conferencing feature article in the September edition of Comms Business magazine http://www.cbmagazine.co.uk/ so I shan't go into detail here, but I did want to post my top-level thoughts on the product whilst they were fresh in my head.

Whilst I wasn't totally blown away by the system, I was very impressed. Having spent part of my time at Cisco studying the video conferencing market, which meant seeing many different VC systems from Tandberg, Polycom, Sony and others, I think I have a reasonable feel for what will sell and (perhaps more importantly) what will be actually be used when installed: the bane of traditional VC systems being that, once bought, they would sit in meeting rooms gathering dust. Microsoft's Roundtable will sell and will be used, because it is priced right (at $3000.00 or so) and if you know how to use Outlook, you will know how to use Roundtable. No more having to call the VC guy to set the system up!

The only obvious downside to the system, to my mind, is the screen issue. Remote users will normally be expected to use their web-camera equipped PC to participate in the Roundtable conference, which is not a problem. But participants sat in the Roundtable system location (normally a meeting room) will have to turn their head between the camera/mike/speaker device (the Roundtable itself) and the display device or devices, which could be one or more lap-tops or a PC projector generated image on a screen or wall, or perhaps a monitor attached to one of the laptops. The significant loss of eye contact could be a distraction to the flow of the meeting. As we weren't actually participating in a meeting I can't be sure how much of a problem this will be.

Having said that, I expect that, some time soon, one of the many companies that produce complementary products for the vast Microsoft market will come up with a neat screen solution to this problem - perhaps a circle of LCD panels around a chassis, on top of which the Roundtable will sit.

If you want to know more about the system please go to http://www.microsoft.com/uc/products/roundtable.mspx
And of course, you can read my article in September!



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