As many of you know, I'm a full-time telecommuter. Although a portion of my work involves some travel, most days I am working from home, and a lot of that involves sitting on conference calls with colleagues and customers/partners.
Until recently, much of that required that I be desk-bound.
Anyone who has to work with VOIP and IP-based conferencing systems such as Skype, Microsoft Lync, Cisco WebEx and Citrix GoToMeeting knows that voice quality is everything if you're going to have an effective business conversation.
And that means using devices that typically tie you to your desk, such as a wired headset or an Bluetooth/USB speakerphone, such as the Plantronics Callisto, which I have and think is an excellent product.
While there are many Bluetooth headsets and earpieces on the market which are perfectly suitable for mobile phone conversations, few are specifically optimized for use with PCs that have VOIP "Soft Phone" software, and do not deliver what I would regard as business critical voice quality.
They are perfectly fine for short calls, but not ideal when you are on a VOIP conference for as much as an hour at a time, or even longer, particularly when you need to be an active participant and when paying close attention to who is speaking and the clarity of what you are saying is essential.
As we all know about Bluetooth when it comes to audio streams, the farther you get away from the transceiver, the worse the audio gets. So it's not practical to stray too far away from your PC.
Installation and use of the headset is pretty straightforward -- you plug the DECT 6.0 transmitter and charging base into a free USB port on your PC or Mac, and the AC power cord to power the base. The headset charges on the base when not in use, and has a built-in rechargeable battery.
The operating system recognizes it automatically, and depending on the VOIP program you are using, you may need to alter the settings to use the headset as your primary audio device.
If you're familiar with the DECT 6.0 1.9Ghz wireless transmission standard, particularly if you have cordless phones in your house that use the technology, you know that you can get some pretty impressive range and not lose any voice quality. That's exactly what the H820e headset gives you for VOIP calls.
My home office is a good 60 feet away from my living room and around 75 feet from my "breakfast area" which has my espresso machine and a table which faces my outdoor patio and pool area with outdoor furniture which is about 100 feet or so away from the base transmitter.
So regardless of what VOIP software I am using, and where I am in my house, I get the same crystal-clear voice quality as if I am sitting right in front of my PC. For example, this wearable computing podcast that I recorded with Rick Vanover of Veeam was actually done in my living room, while wearing the H820e using Skype.
So the quality of the audio is without dispute. What about the overall design and using it?
The H820e was designed for use for hours at a time. The stereo version is comfortable and after a while you forget you even have it on your head. While I am extremely pleased with the device, I have only a few nitpicks:
First, the "Mute" button is attached to the microphone boom and is recessed back towards where the headphone is. It doesn't stick prominently out, so you have to sort of feel your way up the boom to finding it.
If you're away from your PC and are not near the software controls of your VOIP client, and some sort of unplanned audio distraction occurs that you don't want to be heard by everyone else, then it could take a few seconds to mute the audio while you fumble around with the boom. It would be better if in the next version of this product that they put it on the exterior side of the headphone holding the boom.
It's a minor annoyance but it's still an annoyance nonetheless.
The second is the boom mic's sensitivity to airflow. Now, normally you don't have a lot of "wind" in an indoor or office setting but in the summertime in Florida, I like to have a fan going in my office for better air circulation.
If that fan is pointed directly at me, it sounds like I am in an outdoor breeze. And if you are actually outdoors (like sitting on my patio and having a cup of coffee) and a little bit of wind picks up, you're going to hear it if the mic isn't muted, no question.
Also, if you are a heavy breather, you'll probably want to have the boom twisted a lot farther away from your mouth than you think you need it.
Despite what I would call these two minor nitpicks I think the H820e is an excellent product and I heartily reccomend it. I've also spent some time with their wired headset, the H650e on business trips with my laptop and also on my Surface RT using Skype and Lync, and the audio is just as high quality as the H820e, provided your bandwidth supports the fidelity of the connection.
Not all telecommuting and conferencing is about audio, however. From time to time I do need to do video as well.
My corporate laptop, my Lenovo X1 Carbon is a great little machine but its webcam isn't its strong suit. When it's docked to my monitor on my desk at home, I need something that delivers much more robust and HD-quality video.
I've written about small busines and SOHO/workgroup video conferencing products before, like Logitech's BCC950. While the BCC950 is an excellent product for small meeting rooms and for having three to five people on camera at once, it's overkill for a telecommuter or just someone in a single office.
Enter the Logitech C930e, a "Business" webcam. Like any other webcam it clips to the top of your monitor and plugs into your USB 2.0 or 3.0 port. But this is no ordinary webcam.
At a street price of $129.00 it's more expensive than Logitech's consumer/prosumer webcam offerings, but there's considerable enterprise-class video conferencing technology built-into this little device.
First, provided your bandwidth supports it, the C930e can capture 1080p video (or 15MP stills) at 30 frames a second because it includes Scalable Video Coding using H.264 and UVC 1.5, the second of which is needed to be certified for use with corporate-grade video conferencing tools.
Second, the camera has a 90-degree diagonal field of view so you get a widescreen capture of the subject without any "fish eye" distortion. You also get a Carl Zeiss lens and 4X digital zoom with software pan and tilt control, as well as built-in stereo microphones
Logitech also offers the consumer-oriented C920 which is about $30 cheaper than the C930e, but it lacks the the Scalable Video Coding and UVC 1.5 capabilities used with corporate applications like Lync and Cisco UC and is more suited towards Skype and other consumer video applications like Google Hangouts. It also lacks the 90-degree FOV of its more expensive sibling.
While the two cameras look very similar, they shouldn't be confused with each other. If corporate video conferencing capability and quality is definitely what you need, you want the C930e.