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Telepresence and Visual Collaboration @ InfoComm 2013 - The Telepresence Options "Best of Show" Awards
By Howard S. Lichtman, Publisher - Telepresence Options and
David S. Maldow, Associate Publisher
InfoComm is our favorite industry event and one of the few trade shows where attendees can see so many telepresence, videoconferencing, and visual collaboration solutions side-by-side. It is also the industry event where the most new products and services are launched and new industry trends are first observed and detected. This year's event drew over 35,000 attendees from 110+ countries and 937 exhibitors occupying 470,000 net square feet and Telepresence Options Publisher Howard Lichtman and Associate Publisher David Maldow spent three days crisscrossing the massive Orlando Convention Center on-foot and via Segway reviewing the latest and greatest. Here are the three major trends we detected and the solutions we award as our Best in Show!
InfoComm 2013 Trends
- Port-Prices Heading Down, New Pricing Models Abound! - One of the most distinct and important trends in the visual collaboration industry is the rapid and on-going drop in the per-port cost of videoconferencing MCU ports. I am using the term "MCU ports" because even though the hardware-based MCU is rapidly going the way of the Dodo, the industry continues to price their services using the "per port" model. In the not-too-distant past MCU ports were only available attached to an expensive piece of "Big Iron" and ran $2K - $10K per port in addition to the on-going cost of hosting, securing, patching, and baby-sitting your new box. Expandability equaled buying another hardware-based MCU when you had populated all the ports on your first MCU. Now with virtualized software-based MCU capabilities, the cost of "ports" is dropping and the variety of ways that you can purchase "video capabilities" is changing as well. See our comparison chart of the various videoconferencing interoperability cloud-based video services for more information.
Note: This chart contains examples of newer, lower priced offerings that we were able to quickly gather for this article, and is not a comprehensive list of all the new lower prices offerings.
- Partner-enablement - One of the trends that we noticed distinctly was partner enablement. Visual collaboration providers are making it easier than ever to partner, white-label, co-brand, and co-op-atete with each other. Announcements included Vidtel's new Velocity partner program, and the fact that they have signed over 100 partners. Also, AVI-SPL launched a new Video Meeting Room service with Pexip. And finally, we saw a demo from Videxio co-founder Michel Sagen where he spun us up a partner account in less than five minutes and then had us spinning up individualized end-user company accounts five minutes after that.
- Lync-Enablement - Another continuing trend was Lync enablement. Microsoft has quickly become the world's largest video managed service provider, rapidly deploying millions of video endpoints that manufacturers are racing to simplify connecting with. Lync Room Systems (LRS) are Lync-ready videoconferencing endpoints that are easily configurable as shared resources in Microsoft Exchange, Lync, and Office 365. Cisco announced that their Video Communications Server (VCS) will now support HD video calls using H.264 making their entire product line Lync-ready. Vidyo announced a Unified Lync Experience that replaces Lync's crummy video with Vidyo's H.264 SVC that runs better on lossy networks like the internet and includes MS Outlook integration.
Pexip and Acano, who both emerged from stealth shortly before InfoCommm, both show up for their debut touting Lync inter-operability. AGT was demoing its new EncoreB2B mobile video app that they are delivering as a VaaS offering... it was, of course, Lync-enabled. Unfortunately, SMART Technologies pulled out of InfoComm this year as we were looking to give them a Best of Show award for their SMART Room System which is the best Lync integration that we have seen to-date (even if we saw it first at Enterprise Connect instead of InfoComm).
The Telepresence Options
InfoComm 2013 "Best of Show" Awards
We saw a lot of great technology this year, and we found a number of outstanding entries for this year's awards but we also missed many. Even with two analysts and a Segway we estimate we were only able to visit with about half the companies that we were interested in so our apologies if we weren't able to visit with your company.
Without further ado, the winners are...
Best Robotic Telepresence / Remote Presence Solution
The Winner: Beam
The Beam Solution, by Suitable Technologies, narrowly walked away with our award for the Robot / Remote Presence category. Before we explain what we like so much about the Beam solution, let's take a quick look at the two other exhibitors in this field. Also, be sure to check out our in depth look at the entire robotic presence market in the 2013 Telepresence Options Magazine, now available online FREE.
The MantaroBot TeleMe is an affordable option for those looking to dip their toes into robotics. Using your own iPad, iPhone or Galaxy tablet for the audio, video, and brains of the bot, it provides easy to use mobility to the typical tablet VC session. While tablet based videoconferencing is not the highest quality VC available, it does get the job done, and most users find the experience to be a little better than expected. At a few thousand dollars, it is significantly more affordable than its competitors, and is a great choice for those looking for robotic collaboration without breaking the bank.
iRobot Ava 500
As the creators of the incredibly popular Roomba, and designers of numerous home, business, and military robotic technology, all eyes are on iRobot's entry into the Robotic collaboration field. The iRobot Ava 500 did not disappoint, with some seriously impressive navigation features. When first introduced to an environment, the Ava can cruise around and map out the area. Users can save spots, or destinations, for the robot to remember. Then, users can simply point at a destination on the UI and the Ava will automatically pilot itself to that location, avoiding people and obstacles on the way.
This auto-pilot feature could be a decision maker for some purchasers. Certain types of users may feel that navigating a robot through a crowded hallway soon turns from a fun game, to an unnecessary task, or even a chore. If the robot is primarily needed to provide certain specific views / locations, (workstations on a factory floor, various meeting rooms, etc.) then having those locations mapped out could really simplify things.
Beam from Suitable Technologies, has complicated this award by winning it, and then asking that we not call them a robot. As their CEO, Scott Hassan, explained to us, the Beam is completely controlled by the driver. It does not think for itself. Therefore it is not, by his definition, a robot. By this definition, the auto-navigation of the Ava (as previously discussed) would qualify it as a robot, and the lack of auto-navigation would make the Beam a "remote presence solution." With this in mind, we hope Beam will bear with us if we continue to use terms like "robotic telepresence" loosely.
So why did Beam win despite the lack of auto-navigation, which we clearly feel is a power feature? While we still believe in auto-pilot, the Beam simply had enough other things going for it. For example:
- Beam's audio and video quality were excellent. We actually expected the iRobot to look the best, with its Cisco powered audio and video. Yet, for some reason, the remote participants on the Beam just looked better. Perhaps their remote operators were simply better lit, but remote participants look the best on the Beam. Hands Down.
- Beam had the best UI. Despite our love of auto-pilot, sometimes you will still want to drive the device. The Beam was simply the easiest, and most fun, to drive and the iRobot AVA 500, aside from the auto-pilot, was one of the worst. Perhaps Scott has a point that a great UI reduces the need for auto-pilot, as their dozen or so remote drivers were piloting Beams for hours on end with no signs of fatigue or strain. Even our own TPO publisher (who is terrible at videogames) was able to drive the Beam with no problem (see right).
- Beam's prices start at ~$16,000. While this isn't nearly as affordable as the iPad based MantaroBot, it does compare extremely favorably to our other high definition entry, the iRobot Ava 500 which is rumored to cost an incredible ~$70,000. Clearly the Ava is just way too expensive, but as a result, the Beam looks like a bargain.
- Finally, I did a very informal survey of booth attendees and people just seemed to like the Beam better. I think a big reason is its design. It doesn't have a bulky scary robot feel to it (perhaps another reason they are shunning the word robot). It is cute and friendly looking. Perhaps its drivers should be credited as well, as they did an excellent job of charming the booth attendees (see below).
The Winner: SeeVogh
While there was no shortage of cool features on display, we were particularly impressed with SeeVogh's "Plenary Session" support. SeeVogh is a cloud-based VC solution, notable for an advanced UI allowing users to easily pop different feeds in and out of new windows. This makes it easy to, for example, pop out someone's screenshare of a presentation and move it to a second display.
The feature that got SeeVogh this award is its plenary session support. A plenary session can be thought of as the ideal combination of videoconferencing meetings, and webcasts. In the typical webcast, you have two "classes" of attendees. Presenters, who can be seen and heard, and audience members, who may be able to send in a text question. The advantage of webcasts is that they support large audiences.
In a typical videoconference, all attendees are equal participants, but meetings are generally limited to a dozen or so participants.
A plenary session combines these two dynamics. At first, it might appear to be a typical webcast, with, for example, 5 presenters and 200 audience members. What makes this session different is that any audience members can be "promoted" in midsession to have all the powers of a typical videoconferencing attendee, and can be seen and heard by all attendees. So rather than having a moderator read questions from the audience members, he can allow them to temporarily "take the stage" and ask their question themselves.
Best Innovative Use Of Cloud VC Technology
The Winner: Acano
For a long time the conventional thinking in this industry has been that the job of the VC vendor is simply to make the video technology better, more affordable, more flexible. The assumption is that someday the integrators and users will figure out how people should actually be using all of this technology in the real word. It is about time we provided a little more context around VC technology than the common "meeting room to meeting room" scenario.
Acano wraps the more and more common cloud virtual meeting room into what they call "Co-spaces". A co-space is essentially a video meeting with context and purpose. After all, we don't meet for the sake of meeting, we meet to get work done, and typically there are few tools associated with the meeting. These tools (meeting notes, agendas, links to document libraries, etc.) are included as part of the Acano co-space meeting experience. It is really hard to describe the value and power of co-spaces, but everyone who goes through a demo gets it immediately (I call this "the Segway syndrome"). Check out this video to get a better idea of the concept.
Acano is also notable for the exceptional flexibility of their platform, which is most evident in a feature that allows users to split the audio, video, and data feeds. A few competitors allow users to easily switch devices during a meeting (for example from your tablet, to your desktop), without dropping the call. Acano takes this concept to the next level by allowing you to transfer part of the call. For example, you may be connected with your smartphone, and wish to continue to use the audio on your phone, but bring up the video on your tablet. Or you may wish to have the video on your desktop, and the shared data on your tablet. Each stream can be separately switched back and forth between any of your devices or endpoints for a really unique level of flexibility. Very cutting edge, and very cool.
Best Exhibits By A Former Company
The Winner: Tandberg
The uncontested winner for this category is Tandberg. Despite the fact that Tandberg ceased to exist as an independent company three years ago, it absolutely dominated the event with incredible new offerings and technology breakthroughs.
A little background here may help. When Cisco purchased Tandberg in 2010, they got a rock star executive and technical crew, in addition to a treasure trove of video technology and patents. Unfortunately for Cisco, it appears that much of this talent stayed just long enough to count their money, beat their heads against the walls at Cisco until well-bruised, and try on their Bronze handcuffs before cutting loose and getting the band back together.
When their time at Cisco came to a close, many of these former Tandberg people formed several new related companies. One could say that Tandberg's special brand of intrapreneurial corporate DNA oozed out of Cisco to recombine into these new shapes and sizes:
- Acano: (Exec Team) - The winner of our innovation award this year (see above).
- Pexip: (Exec Team) - This team has created the first "no-compromise" fully software / virtualized bridge. There are several virtualized platforms, but for the most part, the ones that natively support H.323 offer less functionality than their hardware sisters. For example, some vendors offer a 1080p hardware bridge and a 720p virtualized version. The software MCU impressively fits on a USB drive, and is being sold as a product, which is interesting considering the industrywide shift to services. Then again, the service providers themselves still need bridges and this could be a strong contender.
- Videxio: (Exec Team) - This cloud VC service is most notable for what they have going on behind the scenes. Their solution intelligently routes each caller to the closest of their global server locations. QoS lines between their service centers reduces the latency and other internet issues which could affect the call. In other words, what would otherwise be a call over a thousand miles of unprotected internet, is actually only public for a short hop. Videxio also featured an extremely impressive turn-up service. The system scans your network for endpoints, and provisions them automatically.
- StarLeaf: (Exec Team) - The old Codian crew offers a service with fully virtualized infrastructure and seriously cool endpoints. New options include a new $1,495 endpoint (GT Mini) which is a nice fit for a small huddle room, with a bit more power / flexibility than a desktop solution, without the cost of a full room solution. For more information on StarLeaf, please check out our recent coverage from Enterprise Connect.
- TelyHD: (Exec Team) - Why has no one else realized that set-top videoconferencing was a good thing? The product line only died because the old systems wouldn't balance on top of new flatscreen monitors. Well, finally someone realized that we miss our set-tops, and TelyHD is bringing them back. For more information on TelyHD, please check out our recent coverage from Enterprise Connect.
Best Coming Of Age Story
The Winners: BlueJeans and Vidtel
BlueJeans and Vidtel, the two cloud interop pioneers, are always lumped together despite their many differences. However, at this particular event, there was one undeniable similarity as they have both reached a crucial juncture in the coming of age story for any new vendor. At previous events, booth attendees were asking "who are you and what do you do" whereas at this event, booth attendees were saying "Ok, I've heard of you and get what you do, let's skip the overview. Here are my requirements, can we do business?" As a result, they must share this award this year.
Both of these companies continue to develop their offerings, adding new features and flexibility for their partners and customers. At this show, both vendors had a number of new announcements, with Blue Jeans showing off an entirely new UI, and Vidtel sharing its powerful new partnership enablement program and WebRTC screenshare capabilities.
Best New Cisco Partner
The Winner: Revolabs
Cisco is partnering with Revolabs to offer a new IP speakerphone to compete with the Polycom starfish. Clearly it must be pleasing for Cisco to make this move against rival Polycom, but it is also smart because Revolabs simply makes great audio equipment and is an excellent potential partner for a number of products.
Several years ago I evaluated Revolabs wireless microphones, particular in a videoconferencing environment, and thought they were exceptional. That was several iterations ago, and they have never stopped developing and improving. Their latest products are industry leading and it makes perfect sense to implement them as an integrated element of a complete UC product line. It was just a matter of which big vendor would be smart enough to start working with Revolabs first. If this product gets the sales and channel support it deserves, it should be successful enough for Cisco to consider implementing Revolabs technology into more of their products.
Best Deal for SMB Customers
The Winner: Avaya Video Collaboration Solution for IP Office
The flexibility of the Scopia platform never ceases to amaze me. Avaya is now offering the "Avaya Video Collaboration Solution for IP Office" which is an infrastructure appliance capable of supporting a small desktop and mobile VC deployment for only $5,500. The embedded 8 port MCU is effectively $688 per port in addition to being a videoconferencing end-point. For an additional $3k they throw in a PTZ HD camera / audio equipment and the box becomes a full featured room VC system, in additional to its original infrastructure functionality. Since additional participants can use the free Scopia desktop and mobile applications to connect desktops, laptops, and tablets the entire package includes some formidable collaborative tools for small groups, teams, and companies. With over 350,000 IP Office systems installed in the market today, there is tremendous opportunity for this new IP Office video collaboration solution. Avaya is also ramping up their partner program, aiming to certify the 3,000+ partners who already sell IP Office.
The Winner: VDO360
USB PTZ Cameras are hot right now as IT folks try to figure out the most cost-effective way to leverage low-cost/free video soft clients running on PCs but still provide a quality video experience by optimizing the camera and providing PTZ capabilities as well. The $1,399 VDO360 seems to have found a sweet spot of quality and affordability. A number of software vendors were looking at the VDO360 as an example of how their solution can be quickly installed without breaking the budget, and we expect to see a number of new VDO360 partnerships as a result.
Best New Videoconferencing Endpoint
The Winner: The Intel Nuc
Two vendors, VDO360 and Vidyo were featuring endpoints based on the Intel Nuc. In the case of VDO360 they have a full install of Windows 7, with whatever video client you choose to run. Bundled with a small speakerphone, wireless keyboard and mouse (and of course the VDO360 camera), it instantly turns any meeting room monitor into both a high definition VC system, as well as a fully functional Windows workstation. Vidyo's implementation is actually intended to be installed behind the monitor, for the world's first "invisible" business quality codec.
Best Collaboration Peripheral
The Winner: WowVision Collab8
The Collab8 is another one of those products that really requires a demo to fully understand the value. At first blush it appears to be an elegant way to wirelessly share data from a laptop, to a meeting room monitor. While this alone would be appreciated (how often have you fumbled with connectors, trying to get your powerpoint up on the big monitor?), the Collab8 is much more. First of all, it allows sharing from a number of devices, including tablets and smart phones. I have some great presentations on the iPad, but I never have that iPad to HDMI connector when I need it.
What's really impressive about the Collab8 is that it shares control as well as display. If your big monitor is touch enabled, you can not only annotate over the image being shared from your laptop / tablet, but actually drive your presentation from the big screen, rather than huddled over your laptop or tablet. As if that isn't enough, each connecting participant can share, annotate, and control, each stream. In other words, when I share my laptop to the big screen, not only can I allow it to be controlled from the big screen, I can allow others participants to "drive" my laptop from whatever device they connected with. The Collab8 becomes a hub for everyone's devices, allowing any device to be controlled from any other device, and for everything to be displayed and shared seamlessly.
The Winner: Dimension Data
There were plenty of fancy cappuccinos at the booths, but the Cortadito (Cuban Espresso Caramelized with Sugar Cane Recipe and Steamed Milk) that they served me at the Dimension Data booth was on another level. Check out my recent chat with David Danto for more information about this global services powerhouse.
Other Fun Shots From InfoComm
The Prysm wall, recently covered here in Telepresence Options, is a new, amazing large display technology. It runs cool, takes little power, and looks fantastic.
We had to fight for space to get a demo at the Acano Booth.
When your partner travels by Segway, you just hope to keep him in view and try to catch up!
Bob Romano, VP Global Marketing for Radvision/Avaya checks out the productivity benefits of the TPO convention attendance system.
Robb Woods, Technology Evangelist at Blue Jeans gives us a blurry shot as he scoots by on the TPO Segway.
We were glad to see the PanaCast at the show. This new camera concept is completely unique and revolutionary, giving the remote participate the ability to completely control his view, without any moving parts distracting local meeting attendees. Check out our recent coverage for more information.
Thanks for joining us on this little tour of InfoComm. We had a great time talking with the people whose technologies will continue to change our lives in the years to come.
Telepresence Options Magazine and the 2013 Telepresence and Videoconferencing Catalog are mailing this week. If you didn't sign up for a free subscription before June 8th then you can still get instant access to the iPad-friendly digital issues by clicking here. If you are interested in purchasing hard copies (including bulk) via PayPal then please Click Here.
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