Vidyo Challenges Cisco, Polycom with Telepresence Offering

Vidyo officials said VidyoPanorama will offer businesses a high-quality telepresence experience at about 10 percent of the price of solutions from Cisco and Polycom.

Vidyo, best known for software that lets users collaborate visually over their desktops, is now taking on the likes of Cisco Systems and Polycom with a telepresence offering that officials say will provide better quality across more screens and at a fraction of the price.

With VidyoPanorama, company officials are looking to bridge the gap between the expensive telepresence offerings from Cisco and Polycom, which can cost $300,000 or more, and the lower quality and fewer features of products from the likes of Skype.

"You're always trying to manage these tradeoffs," Young-Sae Song, vice president of product marketing at Vidyo, said in an interview with eWEEK. "Then there's us. We're trying to bring the high quality without the high costs."

VidyoPanaroma, unveiled June 8, is a high-definition telepresence system designed to increase the number of people-particularly remote workers-who can participate in a video conference. Initially, it will be able to run on nine screens, and that will scale to 20 screens in 2012, according to Song. It also will deliver 1080p at 60 fps (frames per second), a step up from the 30 fps that most other telepresence vendors offer.

VidyoPanorama will offer other significant differentiators than systems from Cisco and Polycom, he said. Through the number of screens that can simultaneously display participants, the Vidyo product offers greater flexibility than the immersive room system that traditionally offers up to four screens in a single place. In addition, by having everyone shown at the same time, participants are not distracted by the changing faces on those four screens, where a cough in one location may remove another location from the screen, Song said. It also means more people can join the conference through such devices as desktops and notebook, tablets and smartphones. Vidyo's software also runs on those devices.

During a demonstration, Vidyo showed a wall with flat-screen TVs bought from a local store with a meeting participant displayed on each, then showed how that same meeting was simultaneously rendered on a laptop and tablet.

That is a key difference between what Vidyo offers and what the competition provides. Officials with Cisco and Polycom have argued that in the immersive video realm, enterprise executives are looking for the feeling that all participants are in the same room, thus the idea behind the big screens and particular furniture for the telepresence rooms.

VideoPanorama will run on the iPhone and iPad from Apple, and various smartphones and tablets running Google's Android mobile operating system, including the Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy tablets.

In addition, Vidyo's software-based offering does not require an MCU (multipoint control unit) for group collaboration, he said. Instead, Vidyo's offering uses the VidyoRouter, which Song said reduces the latency in the video. Any latency can be irritating to users, he said.

"If the video quality is poor ... it's probably more distracting to the conversation you're trying to have," Song said.

Cost is also a huge differentiator, Song said. In a four-screen configuration, VidyoPanorama costs about $44,000, whereas telepresence offerings from Cisco and Polycom cost $300,000 to $500,000, respectively. In VidyoPanorama's nine-screen configuration, the per-screen cost is about $6,200; that number jumped to $100,000 for Cisco and $125,000 for Polycom.

Song said there are markets that in the past may have been priced out of the telepresence arena that now can opt in. He envisioned uses in such areas as operations-management centers for manufacturing, the military and patient monitoring for nurses' stations in hospitals.

Another advantage for Vidyo is its encoding and decoding technology, SVC (scalable video coding), which gives the company the ability to show nine screens simultaneously at a high resolution and a low price. In a June 8 research note, Tavis McCourt, an analyst with Morgan Keegan, said the SVC also makes Vidyo's presentation on PCs and mobile devices better than that of the competition.

Keegan said, "Vidyo's potential disruption to traditional players in this industry is in its patents surrounding SVC. ... If traditional vendors are not able to replicate the performance of Vidyo's SVC without infringing their patents, then Vidyo could potentially extract license revenue from the other vendors, or could build a successful video-conferencing product company by keeping the best-performing SVC technology for Vidyo-branded products."

Such differentiators will be important as Vidyo looks to compete against such giants as Cisco and Polycom, both of whom have made significant moves to grow their portfolios. Cisco last year bought video-conferencing rival Tandberg, while Polycom June 1 announced it was buying Hewlett-Packard's visual communications business-including its Halo telepresence products-and that it had struck a deal with HP to be its exclusive provider of video-collaboration products.

The Polycom move was particularly significant for Vidyo, which only last year had entered into a partnership with HP around video collaboration. Vidyo officials downplayed the situation, saying the partnership with HP had minimal impact on the bottom line.

Vidyo will be demonstrating its telepresence offering at the InfoComm conference in Orlando, Fla., June 11-17.