Polycom Hones Video Devices

Videoconferencing systems are often more trouble than they're worth.

Videoconferencing systems—hardly easy to use, even in well-appointed conference rooms—are often more trouble than theyre worth in cubicles, home offices or on the road. In an effort to make the experience less aggravating for the full panoply of enterprise workers, vendors are making incremental advances in video quality.

Polycom Inc. has introduced ViaVideo II, a video appliance incorporating new camera sensor technology to provide higher video quality to conference participants anywhere in an enterprise. In the past, images of participants surrounded by poor lighting, mixed lighting or significant motion did not transmit well. With the upgraded system, the video will be sharp and clear, the motion smooth, and the colors natural-looking, officials said.

Manhattan Associates Inc., a supply chain efficiency software provider, has been testing ViaVideo II since April. The upgraded technology delivers a noticeable increase in video speed, according to John Drummond, assistant operations manager for Manhattan Associates, in Atlanta.

"It was tolerable with the old ViaVideo. You just had to put up with it," Drummond said, adding that the new version is much easier on the eyes. "With ViaVideo II, you dont have to tolerate much. But before, you would just as soon pick up the phone," he said.

Having used Polycom video phones with outsourced conferencing services for several years, Drummond and his colleagues decided last year to bring conferencing capabilities in-house with Polycoms system. The company uses in-house conferencing primarily for internal purposes, and it continues to outsource its quarterly earnings teleconferences, which need an operator for a question-and-answer session, Drummond said.

The video quality improvements were achieved primarily by replacing CMOS image sensors with more sensitive CCD (charge-coupled device) sensors in the camera, said Polycom officials, in Austin, Texas.

CCD technology costs more, but the list price for the product, which comes as a stand-alone appliance or integrated with Polycoms desktop conference system, will not be raised, officials said.

Polycom is also releasing an upgraded version of its WebOffice collaboration tool and conference portal. With the latest version, users can click on a link and launch an audio conference or videoconference via their desktops, officials said.

Manhattan Associates employees, who have been testing the updated WebOffice, find it easy to set up conferences on their own, Drummond said. Remote users, in particular, appreciate the ability to set up a conference on the fly without having to check if all potential participants are at their desks and without doling out telephone numbers.