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Google Launches Their Own Videoconferencing Gear
Written by Alan D. Greenberg, and the WR Analyst Team
It's getting crowded in the sub-$1,000 video conferencing space. Just today Google has announced Chromebox for Meetings, priced at $999, which includes an annual services fee of $250 for the first year. The solution effectively extends Google Hangouts video into small, 6-8 person "huddle" meeting rooms. The Chromebox appliance is powered by an Intel Core i7 chip, sports both HDMI and Displayport connectors, has 2x USB 3.0 ports and 2x USB 2.0 ports, and connects to the network via an Ethernet port. The solution includes a 1080p-capable USB fixed lens camera with a Carl Zeiss lens, a wideband-capable mic & speaker "puck," and an RF remote with full QWERTY keypad in addition to mute, end call, and volume buttons.
The services component, which can be renewed for $250 / year, includes regular software & security updates, a management console, and 24 / 7 support. The management console is the same as that used for Chromebooks, and it allows for restricting calls, regulating chat history settings, and managing and monitoring OS updates, reboot frequency, and usage data. It also enables the ability to start meetings remotely, though Google is making a big deal about how each system will have the calendar onscreen and be configured for onebutton meeting launch.
Working with Asus, HP, and Dell for hardware, Vidyo and �berconference for software interop, and CDW and Synnex for distribution, the company tested with the likes of Costco, Eventbrite, Yelp, and others with a big focus on two areas: ease of use and management. Asus is releasing its version today, and HP and Dell are reportedly coming out soon with their respective Chromebox for Meetings.
What WR thinks:
This announcement is big, big enough that we had a bunch of analysts on the pre-release call and we confabbed afterwards -- in Hangouts, of course. Not a bad video experience.
Google claims systems can be set up and configured in less than 10 minutes by non-IT types. Understanding how meetings can be launched takes some thinking through, however. In short, users can schedule Chromebox-enabled rooms in Google Calendar, and launch said meetings via the Google invite or from the device itself. To join a Hangout, users must have a Google account, of course. Users can also create a persistent Hangout defined by the word of their choice (examples provided by Google included Analyst and Tofu, interestingly) -- and users can then access the named Hangout (e.g. "Meet me in Tofu"). Google noted they are working on an Outlook add-in that would extend similar scheduling functionally to Outlook users; however, it is clear to our team that the experience appears to be built for users fully immersed in the Google ecosystem. If you already are Googled up, you'll likely dive right in, adding Chromebox rooms via a familiar scheduling process, joining meetings with familiar credentials, etc. If not, you may find yourself with disconnected, redundant, and possibly confusing scheduling and authentication steps.
So why is Google expanding its circle of influence into the room-based video appliance industry? This appears quite clearly to be an offensive move against Office 365. This device provides an initial guard against Microsoft's rapidly expanding video-enabled ecosystem, as an increasing number of room-based systems provide a native integration into a video-enabled Lync meeting (not to mention Microsoft's relatively expensive Lync Room Systems). While the solution, in and of itself, isn't likely to convert a Microsoft-enabled enterprise over to Google Apps for Business or EDU, it certainly provides a very critical checkmark for room-based video integration. This integration, in fact, is something that Google has been speaking about for well over a year -- and is about six months past the date several WR analysts expected to see some sort of integrated solution. And this should sell like hotcakes in education, where Chromebooks and Hangouts have done remarkably well at nibbling away at Apple's strong base.
Because Google recently went with its own VP8 codec (which it acquired when it bought On2 Technologies in 2010) instead of H.264, users interested in extending Google video conferencing into the conference room have three choices: a) make do with the desktop-oriented Hangouts experience, b) use a Chromebox, or c) use an H.264 gateway solution to include a standards-based group system -- like the one that Vidyo will be providing (as described in Andrew's next article this issue) in its H20 service for business video conferencing. But in theory Google hasn't had to worry too much about interop with Google+ Hangouts -- it's pretty browser-friendly these days (you're not stuck with being a Chrome user). One thing we liked: Hangouts recognized one of us was typing during the call and his system automatically muted. We wonder how that will work in a full-blown conference, but it would certainly help overcome the challenges associated with noisy co-workers on calls.
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