Polycom Puts Video Conferencing at the Center of the Room

The vendor's new Centro and Trio products are designed to give people a more natural way to collaborate visually.

video conferencing

Polycom officials want to move the focus of video conferences from the end of the conference room to the center.

The company is rolling out an array of new telepresence devices that officials said are designed to fit how people sit and communicate when they gather together.

"When people collaborate, they tend to work around the table," Michael Frendo, executive vice president of engineering at Polycom, told eWEEK. "They don't sit and look at screens at the end of the room."

That was the driving force behind the company's new RealPresence Centro video conferencing product, and also played a role in the thinking behind its new RealPresence Trio smart hub for group collaboration. Both were among the products unveiled at an event in New York City Oct. 7 marking Polycom's 25th anniversary.

The company is hoping to drive its product portfolio into the tens of millions of conference rooms worldwide that aren't equipped with video collaboration technology. According to Frendo, only about 2 to 4 percent of the 25 million to 55 million rooms have such equipment.

"The industry really hasn't brought products that are suited for these work spaces," he said, noting that with screens positioned at the end of rooms, they're more about presentation than collaboration. "What's been lacking is technology that is adapted to the way people want to work, rather than expecting people to adapt to the technology."

Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, echoed Frendo's comments.

"One of the challenges with traditional meeting spaces is that the video screens are on the wall," Kerravala wrote in a post on the No Jitter site. "This is fine for many types of interactions such as huddle rooms or board meetings, but that kind of set-up does have its limitations for collaborative sessions with multiple people as everyone's focus is the wall instead of the people in the room."

One of the new products rolled out by Polycom is RealPresence Centro, a system that puts four screens in the middle of the room, with the people in the room seated around them. Included in the all-in-one system is a 360-degree voice and video camera that automatically tracks the speaker while showing the entire meeting space on the same screen. The screens have touch capabilities and Centro also can be wireless paired with mobile devices like smartphones, tablets and notebooks.

The system, which is mobile and can be up and running in 15 to 20 minutes, initially was given the code name Bonfire, illustrating the idea of people sitting around a fire as the way they naturally meet and talk.

"There's a lot of anthropological research on how people collaborate," Frendo said.

RealPresence Trio adds more collaboration capabilities to the ubiquitous three-point conference phone found in many rooms. Polycom put an Android-based display onto the system that people can use to control everything from voice and video to content and participants, and it can become a full visual collaboration device when a Webcam is added. It also can be synced with mobile devices, and can be used with a broad range of unified communications (UC) platforms, such as Microsoft's Skype for Business and Lync and BroadSoft's technology.

Through a developer interface, businesses can add software from third parties, according to Frendo.

In addition, Polycom introduced RealPresence Debut, which is a video conferencing system for smaller huddle rooms and is aimed at small or midsize businesses that have limited IT resources. It can be set up in a matter of minutes and offers a simple interface. Debut includes a camera that can pan, tilt and zoom, 1080p video quality and content-sharing capabilities. It also can connect to Polycom's RealPresence Cloud services. The company's RealPresence Medialign is another all-in-one system that includes voice, video and content-sharing features.

Polycom's Concierge software instantly connects mobile devices to systems in the company's portfolio.

Trio will be available in November, with both Medialign and Concierge being released in December. Debut will come in January, followed by Centro in February.

The video conferencing market is in transition as businesses gravitate to the growing number of cloud- and software-based options. However, Kerravala said that "there are still thousands of conference and huddle rooms and other places that people meet to work. The new products from Polycom should allow businesses to get more value out of these spaces as workers can now work more naturally and focus on collaborating with other people and content instead of constantly fiddling with the technology."