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Polycom RealPresence video conferencing: One size doesn't fit all

Polycom's RealPresence Group 700 offering targets large environments with side-by-side video and streaming content capabilities.

Video conferencing systems can help unite employees by providing a cost-efficient method of conducting face-to-face meetings, even when users are geographically dispersed. But conversations and facial expressions aren't the only items being exchanged during a successful meeting.

While some businesses may only require desktop video or room-based conferencing systems to share PowerPoint slides, other users may require a more advanced and detail-oriented vantage point. Many video collaboration tools can enable shared static content side-by-side with a real-time video conference, but no one has been able to stream content -- like video -- alongside a video conference without sharply degrading quality.

Polycom Inc. recently announced the latest edition to its RealPresence portfolio -- the Polycom RealPresence Group 700 -- which allows users to stream content alongside a high-definition video conferencing session. It succeeds in streaming content simultaneously by assigning the same priority level as the video conference, said Ira Weinstein, partner and senior analyst at Duxbury, Mass.-based Wainhouse Research.

Polycom RealPresence: Streaming content is as important as video

One size doesn't fit all when it comes to video conferencing systems and technology. Video and collaboration vendors have options ranging from desktop video to HD telepresence room-based systems -- depending on the end user's unique needs.

While the Polycom RealPresence portfolio reaches smaller businesses with its Group 300 and medium-sized customers with its Group 500, the new Group 700 extends high-definition video conferencing and video collaboration capabilities to larger environments -- like college lecture halls and large conferences -- said Chris Thorson, director of product and solutions marketing for San Jose, Calif.-based Polycom.

The Group 700 connects up to eight parties on a single call without requiring an external bridge. Users can run 1080p/60-quality video and content side by side to share any type of content, including full-motion video clips, Thorson said.

Users who have tried to share streaming content during a video conference in the past have experienced choppy and poor video quality. "The only content [users] used to think of sharing [was] documents and files, so very little bandwidth … [was] allocated to the content stream. Now, users are much more likely to share video and it can now be a much higher frame rate and quality," he said.

While the video experience may be upgraded in the Group 700 line, the offering won't eat up bandwidth, Thorson said. The Group 300, 500 and 700 are based on the H.264 Scalable Video Coding (SVC) technology compression standard, allowing enterprises to conserve network resources.

"High-definition video and content streaming will use more bandwidth, but the standard really allows users to get the most out of their bandwidth, while still providing high-quality video," he said.

The user interface and remote controls on the Polycom RealPresence Group 700, 500 and 300 have also been upgraded in the new release, Thorson said. The simplified remote has been reduced to up and down arrows that allow users to navigate through menus on screen, rather than having dedicated feature buttons on the remote itself. The new intuitive user interfaces automatically update when a conference is in session, presenting the most commonly used functions -- including click-to-share content or camera angle controls. Speed dial buttons for different users or bridge numbers are displayed at the top of the screen when a conference is not in session.

High-definition video collaboration: Who needs it?

Having the unique ability to successfully stream video alongside an active video conference while maintaining the quality of both sessions opens the door for some unique use cases, especially in the education, health care and media spaces, Wainhouse's Weinstein said.

"A movie studio can jump on a call with another office located in another geographic area, and instead of sending changes and editing a portion of the video over email, they can make [those] changes right over the video conference in high-definition with each other, in real time," Polycom's Thorson said.

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For some industries, the content stream is just as critical as the video conferencing stream, and must be prioritized accordingly, Weinstein said.

"For physicians performing surgery in a lesson or examining a patient, that second camera, [which is] focused on the patient, needs to be clear, and it needs to be high quality," he said.

However, while the Polycom RealPresence Group 700 is aimed at large group meetings and may be suitable for education and collaboration, it isn't reflective of mass market needs, said Dave Michels, CEO at TalkingPointz Research.

Regardless of the content being shared -- whether static or streaming -- the right move for any video conferencing experience is to maintain the meeting session, even during sharing, Weinstein said.

"Offerings like [the Polycom Group 700] are paving the way for applications that are beyond what we are using today … but keeping up that face-to-face experience while users can see content is the right play," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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