Cisco Wants to Tidy Up Desktop Videoconferencing
Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading
SAN FRANCISCO -- CiscoLive -- Cisco introduced hardware on Monday designed to make personal videoconferencing affordable, attractive, and practical. The DX80 is a 23-inch computer monitor that doubles as a high-performance videoconferencing unit and touchscreen Android tablet. The DX70 has a smaller display with the same videoconferencing technology and Android capabilities, designed for people who aren't looking to use it as a primary display.
Videoconferencing has failed to follow the technology path blazed by smartphones, which combine phone, digital camera, notepad, GPS, music player, and PalmPilot -- previously all separate devices -- into a single compact unit, said Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and GM of the Cisco Collaboration Technology Group. But desktop videoconferencing users still deal with device proliferation. "Today's typical desktop is cluttered with monitors, speakers, cameras, phones, keyboards, and PCs. Rather than creating an experience that enables productivity, technology gets in the way," he said.
Also, bandwidth and processor requirements for video are generally too steep for many users. Put it together and that makes videoconferencing hard to use, complicated to configure, and lousy quality.
The DX units are intended to change that. The big model looks like an iMac, and can serve as an external PC monitor. It's also a standalone Android tablet. The 24-inch DX80 will be priced under $2,000 and the DX70, with smaller screen, will be under $1,000.
Both units can serve as standalone videoconferencing devices, but the bigger DX80 is also designed to replace an external display for a desktop computer.
The devices incorporate hardware, software and connect to a cloud service designed to ensure an easy-to-use, high-quality video experience. Onboard processors handle compression and decompression for good video and audio on low bandwidth connections. The units have four microphones to automatically detect -- -and suppress -- sound coming from sources off-camera, to minimize distractions from loud-talking co-workers in open offices, and barking dogs and crying babies in home offices.
The touchscreens allow the devices to be used as shared sketchboards, and tilt easily to a 45-degree angle so people sharing a videoconference can start sketching out ideas onscreen as easily as they might do with paper and pen in a face-to-face meeting, Trollope said.
Android support allows the devices to run applications, including purpose-built vertical apps for industries such as healthcare. The units connect to existing address books and calendars, including Active Directory, Google, and Apple iCal. Integration with address books and calendars eliminates another obstacle to videoconferencing and conferencing systems like Cisco's WebEx, where people make clerical errors transcribing and misdialing dial-in numbers and conference codes. With the DX units, uses just click a big JOIN button when it's time to join a conference.
Similarly Cisco launched its Collaborative Meeting Room cloud service, which assigns a virtual meeting room to each individual, where they can meet with other people on a variety of devices and services, including WebEx, Microsoft Lync, Polycom conference phones, web browsers, or any other service supporting the SIP protocol. That service, which extends WebEx incorporating Intercloud, will be available from Cisco partners later this year.
Several customers took the stage with Cisco to describe how they're using the DX units. Paras and Associates provides translation services for healthcare providers. CEO Melinda Paras sees videoconferencing as an intermediate level of service that's better than phone. Though not as good as face-to-face translation, video is less expensive. Every nursing station in the world should have a unit like the DX, she declared.
David Day, global director of WorkPlace Services for Dow Chemical, sees videoconferencing as a way to extend Dow corporate culture to younger employees and the developing world.