The race between Tandberg and Polycom, the top two videoconferencing equipment providers, continues to heat up with both companies launching product-line enhancements that could result in higher quality audio and video and tighter integration with existing conference room audiovisual equipment.The race between Tandberg and Polycom, the top two\u00a0videoconferencing\u00a0equipment providers, continues to heat up with both companies launching product-line enhancements that could result in higher quality audio and video and tighter integration with existing conference room audiovisual equipment.Both companies - Polycom this week with its VSX 7.0 software release and Tandberg last week with its new MXP-branded endpoints - are enhancing their core lines of videoconferencing units with features such as stereo sound;\u00a0Session Initiation Protocol\u00a0support, which lets endpoints talk to many SIP VoIP-enabled phones and devices; and support for the H.239 protocol, which standardizes the way video and presentations are delivered in a video call. Tandberg also is shipping a $9,500 gatekeeper that authenticates users and regulates video traffic on a network.Polycom added stereo to its proprietary Siren14 audio technology, while Tandberg is implementing the new MPEG AAC-LD (low-delay) standard to provide left and right channels of sound. Polycom derives its stereo from two microphone inputs. Tandberg provides stereo only for multimedia content from CDs and DVDs played in a conference, but offers 20-kHz sound compared with 14-kHz from Polycom. Both companies offer speaker packages to take advantage of the increased sound capabilities.Stereo might not seem important, but it can help when there's more than one person in an on-screen room. "In a situation where you don't have audio-locate [voice tracking], it gives you an audio clue as to who is talking," says Dave Horn, conferencing service manager for Entergy, an energy firm in New Orleans that is testing one of the new Polycom units.Polycom's VSX 7.0 software includes the ability to do live and on-demand Web streaming of video calls in QuickTime format, the ability to see four participants on screen at one time, SNMP support for remote management, and integration with Cisco Call Manager 4.0 ECS. This will let a user of a Cisco IP phone transfer calls to a video Polycom video endpoint. The 7.0 software upgrade is free for any current VSX owner.Polycom also is introducing new video endpoints, including two new set-top units in the VSX 7000 line (starting at about $6,000) and three new rack-mounted systems in the VSX 8000 series (starting at about $13,000) that are designed for larger conference rooms. Polycom has added integration between some of the higher-end units and its VTX 1000 audio conference phone that lets the phone's speakers and microphones be the audio arm of the video call. Users also can dial video calls from the phone's keypad.Meanwhile, Tandberg is boosting horsepower of its MXP line, which features new Trimedia chips to increase processing power that can now do H.264 video compression, encryption and H.239 in the same call. The company also increased the number of participants that an endpoint can handle in a call to 11 - six people on video and five on the phone - up from four video sites and one audio port.Built-in transcoding lets each user receive the best-quality audio and video their system can handle, rather than lowering everyone to the lowest common denominator, as it did before, says Snorre Kjesbu, vice president of technology at Tandberg.Tandberg also released the Maestro MXP (about $25,500) roll-about unit, which has a pole-mounted camera and is designed for users in conference rooms with overhead video projectors and speakers. There's also a new Codec 3000 MXP rack-mount system (about $14,000) and 3000 MXP cart-based system with dual monitors (about $16,000).Tandberg originally built its video endpoints on the same software and chipset and only recently added multipoint control unit (MCU), gateway and now gatekeeper. Polycom built its product lines through acquisitions The company is phasing out its older but popular ViewStation video line in favor of the VSX family.