By Michael Caton  |  Posted 2006-10-16 Print this article Print

Theres been a lot of hype around high definition, and the hoopla has made its way to videoconferencing. However, based on eWEEK Labs tests of LifeSize Communications LifeSize Room, the hype is warranted.

Updated in October, the $11,999 LifeSize Room HD videoconferencing system includes an appliance, a remote control, a camera and a phone.

During tests, LifeSize Room provided an excellent conference experience with high-quality video and audio in an easy-to-use system. Organizations with a video-conferencing system in place may find LifeSize Rooms cost steep for an upgrade, but companies shopping around for a videoconferencing system should consider HD from the get-go.

LifeSize Rooms pricing is comparable to that of competing HD products from Polycom and Tandberg. To get a sense of the premium you pay for HD, LifeSize Team—an entry-level HD system—costs $7,999. This is about $1,500 more than Polycoms VSX 5400, an entry-level standard-conference-room system that also includes a phone.

LifeSize Rooms price doesnt include an HD display. The HD LCD display we used in testing—a 26-inch Sharp LC26D40U—retails for between $800 and $1,000.

How come HD?

The pitch for HD videoconferencing is an improvement to image quality that will allow participants to better identify facial expressions—the better to gauge reactions to ideas.

We did see a big difference in tests: LifeSize Rooms image quality is much better than what weve seen with traditional, lower-resolution videoconferencing systems. However, while we appreciated how the image quality allowed us to better read reactions, a more practical benefit is the ability to clearly show props and illustrations on whiteboards.

We also were impressed with LifeSize Rooms sound quality. The systems LifeSize Phone has a 16-microphone array around its outer edge, resulting in excellent audio quality and a great alternative to the combination of a phone with three or four microphones (and a couple of remote microphone pucks) that traditional systems require for higher-end sound.

LifeSize Room supports dual cameras and dual displays, which makes the solution suitable for large conference rooms. LifeSize Communications doesnt offer an HD document camera, but LifeSize Rooms appliance does have S-video and composite inputs for a document camera. We found that the appliance provides enough input and output ports for most audio and video needs.

In fact, we like the way the system is put together. To make outbound calls, we could use either the remote control and on-screen interface or the LifeSize Phone. LifeSize Rooms on-screen interface presents users with a list of recently dialed numbers, as well as the option to make voice or video calls. At a deeper level, the interface includes an embedded directory and access to Microsoft Active Directory listings for dialing in participants.

Full integration with Active Directory, as well as end-user scheduling of the device through Microsofts Outlook, requires LifeSizes remote management application, LifeSize Control, as well as Microsofts Exchange Server 2003.

Users can update Active Directory from the appliance. This process is tedious when using the remote control because of the dial-pad interface; the LifeSize Control application, which is used to remotely manage devices, is a better alternative.

The LifeSize Phone, a VOIP (voice over IP) device with a high-quality speaker and microphone array that connects to the LifeSize appliance, also can be used to initiate calls. The phones dial-pad interface gives users a way to dial out through the appliance, either to a phone number or an IP address, without using the LifeSize remote and on-screen interface.

The remote has a standard dial pad, audio and video controls, as well as buttons and a four-direction rocker switch for navigating the user interface. Users can control the near and remote HD cameras.

Users can set some basic preferences, such as auto-answer. Administrators can manage system settings at the device level through a password-protected interface. For example, we could configure network, H.323 and SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) settings through the administrator interface.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.


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