• United States

Polycom strengthens videoconference features

Jul 14, 20033 mins
Collaboration SoftwareEnterprise ApplicationsSmall and Medium Business

Polycom has been busy the past two weeks announcing advanced features for its low-end gateway device, improved video and audio quality for its desktop videoconferencing device, and a portal-like Web conferencing service that integrates many of the company’s product lines into one interface.

The enhanced products include Version 5.6 of the software that powers Polycom’s MGC-25 gateway for connecting multiple users in a single audio or video call; the Via Video II, the latest version of Polycom’s desktop IP videoconferencing device; and WebOffice 5.6 software for launching meetings and sharing files.

Expected this week, the MGC-25 Version 5.6 adds advanced features to Polycom’s entry-level gateway, such as the ability to see conference participants simultaneously; transcoding (connecting IP, ISDN and public switched telephone network systems in the same call); and the ability to support a presence service that lets users click on a name in a window and connect to that user.

All of these features were previously available in the high-end MGC-50 and MGC-100 lines targeted at users with hundreds or more simultaneous users. The MGC-25 is a 2U-high box designed for small offices and departmental use, and can connect users coming in on traditional videoconferencing endpoints as well as the phone, says Eva Shafer, product marketing manager for the MGC-25.

With Version 5.6, Polycom also is introducing a number of new configurations for the device, including an ISDN-only model for videoconferencing and a 48-port voice-only option. Pricing ranges from $26,000 for a 12-port IP-only device on the low end to a high of $79,950 for the high-end model.

Polycom also announced the new version of WebOffice, which gives customers the ability to set up their own conferencing portal within a corporate network. Running on a Windows 2000, WebOffice provides end users with their own “virtual” office that can be used to host ad hoc meetings with traditional Web conferencing features such as slide shows, application sharing and text chat. This is similar to what PlaceWare or WebEx offers as a service provider application. A desktop client or Web interface can be used to access the virtual office.

Polycom is in the process of integrating WebOffice across its product lines. Using an instant-messaging-like contact list, users can connect to one another individually for a Web collaboration session, to launch a point-to-point or multi-point call. Pricing for WebOffice starts at $600 per seat, and it is available in five-seat increments.

Finally, end users will benefit from the new ViaVideo II desktop IP videoconferencing device, which now features the ability to conference at up to 512K bit/sec, up from 384K bit/sec. Polycom also cut from 64K bit/sec down to 32K bit/sec the amount of bandwidth needed for transmitting audio. The savings help squeeze more video into lower-bandwidth connections.

Unlike smaller USB Webcams that rely on the PC’s processor to do all the video and audio processing, the ViaVideo II contains its own audio/video chipset. VCON offers a similar desktop IP device in the same price range.

“It is a hell of an improvement; the low-light [capability] is great,” says Guy Welty, manager of global media networks and collaborative services at W.R. Grace in Columbia, Md. Welty is rolling out the units at his company so that executives can conduct video meetings without having to leave their offices.

ViaVideo II began shipping last week and is available for $599.