New Cisco 55-Inch Spark Board Enlivens Online Meetings, Presentations

The 55-inch all-in-one Cisco Spark Board uses wireless technology to connect people to online meetings and presentations.

Cisco Spark Board 2

Cisco has introduced two products designed to make presentations and meetings more effective and accessible. The cloud-connected Cisco Spark Board is an interactive, 55-inch digital whiteboard with video capabilities that is potentially accessible from anywhere in the world.

The screen can be controlled by a PC, Mac, tablet or smartphone thanks to what the company says is “groundbreaking new ultrasound wireless pairing technology.” A larger 70-inch Spark Board is planned for release later this year.

The company also announced Cisco Spark Meetings on Jan. 24, making popular features of its WebEx conferencing software an integrated part of the Spark Board. Individual projects and presentations can be securely saved in what Cisco calls “Spaces” for later viewing and editing on a PC or Mac.

Agenda and other meeting material can be stored in a team Space where participants can share content and chat online. When you schedule a meeting using the Spark app, you’ll automatically get the materials you need to prepare for the meeting.

Other features of the Spark Board include a 4K resolution camera and 4K ultra high definition touch screen, microphone array and VoiceTrack technology that synchronize the scroll speed of a presentation to the pace of the person talking. The Cisco Spark Board uses an advanced microphone array to adjust the volume of whoever is speaking regardless of their position in the room.

Typically meeting attendees would take a snapshot of something important on the whiteboard for viewing later. Cisco says it’s tried to take that idea to the next level.

“The problem with taking a picture of the whiteboard is that it represents a point in time. If you want to continue the drawing later, you can’t really do that – the whiteboard is now a static image,” Jonathan Rosenberg, Chief Technology for Cisco’s Collaboration Business, said in a blog post. “For interactive white-boarding to really go mainstream, we needed a solution that allows you to save the whiteboard, then pick up where you left off at any time.”

The Cisco Spark app also gives mobile users access to the whiteboard via their smartphone or tablet. Participants can also appear as a part of a video call on the whiteboard while the content is being developed.

“Our philosophy is the best meeting is no meeting at all,” Rowan Trollope, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the IoT and Applications Group at Cisco, said in a release. “We’ve shown that people who use Cisco Spark have fewer meetings—and when they do meet, it’s better. You can’t schedule innovation.”

Rick Altman, who runs an annual conference on giving presentations, says the Cisco whiteboard technology is impressive, but that doesn’t guarantee an effective meeting.

“Ending the pain of meetings is a lofty goal that cannot be achieved just with technology,” Altman told eWEEK in an email. “It requires an appreciation on the part of the meeting leaders that what they have to say will always be far more important than what they show. Until they understand that, ‘Death by PowerPoint’ will always be in our lexicon and no amount of technology will fix that.”

The 55-inch version of the Cisco Spark Board will be available from Cisco partners at the end of January for $4,990. A monthly subscription of $199 per month covers the cloud service, help desk and software upgrades. A 70-inch version of the board will be available later this year for $9,990.

David Needle

David Needle

Based in Silicon Valley, veteran technology reporter David Needle covers mobile, bi g data, and social media among other topics. He was formerly News Editor at Infoworld, Editor of Computer Currents...