Polycom, the top-ranked vendor in a recent Forrester report on room-based videoconferencing (ahead of Cisco and LifeSize) has unveiled a wide-ranging portfolio of new software, platform enhancements and hardware. The aim, according to the company, is to "accelerate mass adoption of video collaboration" by making it easier to connect to Polycom's infrastructure from outside the corporate firewall, easier to participate in video meetings once connected, and less expensive for organisations to deploy video communication as a routine line-of-business application.
Central to this strategy is CloudAXIS Suite, an extension to Polycom's RealPresence Platform (RPP) that brings enterprise-grade video collaboration to users of Skype, FaceBook, GoogleTalk and other presence-based video applications. 'Enterprise-grade video' implies certain standards of authentication, security, reliability — and, of course, audio and video quality. With the CloudAXIS software suite, Polycom RPP customers can include beyond-the-firewall collaborators in multipoint, continuous-presence video conferences by dragging and dropping external contacts (Skype users, for example) from a global directory into a Polycom-powered 'collaboration space' on the desktop. This then issues a hyperlink invitation within the chat window of the external user's video application; clicking the link fires up a browser-based, enterprise-grade, video session.
CloudAXIS Suite, which runs on industry-standard servers, will be available in enterprise and partner/service provider editions, for deployment in private and public clouds.
Open SVC standard
A key component of Polycom's RPP enhancement is an open, interoperable implementation of H.264 Scalable Video Coding (SVC) technology — an industry first, according to the company. SVC's key benefit is improved bandwidth management: Polycom told ZDNet on Friday that a video call that previously supported 10 high-definition (HD) endpoints would now support 30 endpoints. Polycom's open SVC standard offers backwards compatibility with the existing H.264 Advanced Video Coding (AVC) standard, while avoiding the 'insularisation' inherent in proprietary SVC implementations. SVC support will be available as a software upgrade to various RPP components. For the user, SVC support means the ability to get high-definition video and audio on a broadband, or even a mobile broadband, link.
User experience enhancements
As well as opening up its platform to third-party video applications and promoting an open SVC standard, Polycom has announced a number of 'user experience' (UX) enhancements. SmartPairing, for example, allows an iPad running RealPresence Mobile 2.0 to link wirelessly to a Polycom room-level endpoint; this will allow you to transfer a video call from tablet to big screen with the swipe of a finger, and use the tablet as a remote control.
Tricks like this, and others such as software menus that present your most-used choices first and new finger-friendly user interfaces, all improve usability, but the biggest driver of user satisfaction in video communication has to be the quality of the video and audio. Polycom's platform enhancements now allow it to support high-definition (1080p) video at double the previous frame rate — 60fps compared to 30fps — for the first time. Importantly, this will also apply to the parallel content-sharing channel — making demos of videos, 3D designs or medical imagery that much smoother and more interpretable.
Audio quality — a traditional Polycom strength — also gets an upgrade with new NoiseCancel technology, which aims to automatically eliminate distracting noises such as keyboard rattling, paper shuffling or air-con hum.
New endpoints, software MCU
Polycom has a new range of codecs called the Group Series, all supporting SVC, the latest UX enhancements and 1080p/60 resolution. There are three models (300, 500 and 700), with inputs and outputs catering for different sizes of audience. For the C-level clientele, there's the VisualEdge Executive Desktop, a slim (under 2.5cm) endpoint with a 27in. screen that can also function as a regular PC display. And as already noted, Polycom's RealPresence Desktop (Windows and Mac OS) and Mobile (iOS and Android) applications are upgraded to version 2.0.
Completing what Polycom describes as the largest product launch in its history is a multi-protocol software multipoint control unit (MCU) called RealPresence Collaboration Server 800s Virtual Edition (RPCS 800s VE). Aimed at mid-sized organisations or branches of large enterprises, RPCS 800s VE can lower the cost of enabling video collaboration by replacing expensive dedicated gateways with software running on industry-standard servers.
Pricing for the new Polycom products is not available at the time of writing. Check back for updates.