It’s not often that I am really, really impressed with a product. This is one of those times.
Ease of Use
Zoom.us required a small download from their website to get started. The only slightly unfortunate thing is that the product requires a login using credentials from either Facebook or Google, for reasons that I can only speculate about. This is only necessary if you want to initiate a meeting. To join someone else’s meeting you only need to be given an invitation via email (which is incredibly easy for the host to provide), download, launch the application, type your name and you are in the meeting.
Joining via iPad is a matter of inputting the room id that is provided at the top of the screen by the host via an obvious button called “Join Video Meeting”. It is possible to initiate a meeting from the iPad, which some other products aren’t able to do.
There aren’t many bells and or whistles to complicate things. There’s no way to change quality settings, but from what I found it’s not needed as I’ll go into below.
Quality of Product
The video image quality was excellent. Even full screen on a 23” monitor, the image from my iPad looked very good with just some pixelization but not enough to notice unless you are looking for it. Video from the desktop on the iPad was excellent as well. Latency between iPad and desktop was as close to non-existent as I’ve seen in a software product. Audio to video sync was virtually spot on. For this test, I pointed the camera at my online radio’s webpage (that I was also streaming at the same time). The web page has a meter that lights up as people speak in sync with the audio. I took my iPad into another room so I could hear the radio and see the meter through it. Sync was incredibly close, by far closer than any other product.
Screen/application sharing was easy and fast. I shared a web page from the desktop and going from page to page appeared very fast on the iPad. Sharing over the web and having to wait for a PowerPoint slide (or whatever) to change while the presenter either has to wait until you see it or just starts talking before you see the information is a little painful to me. No problem with that here.
Up to 15 participants in a meeting, free. A friend told me that Zoom.us is in beta, but I didn’t see that officially. The TOS on their website though has a heading labeled “CHARGES” so I assume it won’t be free forever, especially with language like “Zoom may change prices at any time without prior notice, including changing from a free service to a paid service…”. This is disappointing for a cheapskate like me and I wonder what the end price will be and conditions they will set. Hopefully, it will still be free for maybe three or four participants and charge for more than that. Even the Skype model of charging for multipoint would be acceptable for me so I can still use the free model.
I would highly recommend this product. When/if pricing is involved I reserve the right change my mind.
Cisco/Tandberg Overarching Philosophy (my take)
Corporate, high end, “Telepresence”
What I Think of When I Think of Cisco / Tandberg
Routers / Reliable Video Conferencing Hardware
Tandberg has been around the video conferencing industry….well, forever.
Cisco is a late entry that, in my own very humble opinion, was kinda lost in this industry. Then they bought Tandberg which I thought was a great thing (time will tell, however). Hopefully, Cisco will (should) let Tandberg, a world leader in video conferencing, do it’s thing. Again, time will tell.
Thanks to Tandberg…Cisco now has an IMPRESSIVE range of video conferencing products (from endpoints, to infrastructure to cameras to purses (not!)) and services (cloud based Callway looks VERY cool) that is mind boggling in depth and breadth. The only lacking component that I can see is an iPhone or Android based mobile app (UPDATE: I have been told that a sweet app will be coming out Q1-2012).
Cloud Based Callway
You may be able to tell, but, I am a huge fan of cloud-based video conferencing (even though Clint and I are out of work).
Cisco offers two services that they claim are cloud based. One called “Intercompany Cloud Services” just does not resonate with me as a true cloud based service, the other “Callway” is potentially exciting.
The information on the web site about Callway is very Marketing oriented which means I could not find a whole lot of technical information. My request for information has as yet gone unanswered. NEWS: I understand that my old Polycom PVX will not work with Callway. Arrrghh..
Sooooo….lacking technical details on the web, or a call back from Cisco….the number of endpoints that can be supported by Callway is unknown (but it looks to be 5 or more), the resolutions Callway can support is unknown, what endpoints it supports is unknown, and coverage areas / limitations (if any) are unknown.
HINT: Cisco needs to put up a spec sheet on Callway! 🙂
But other than that…the marketing on Callway makes it seem cool, and cloud vc is great (…as long as it works).
The endpoints span the cost spectrum from a <– laptop based Movi to multi-thousand dollar “immersive telepresence” rooms.
The emphasis, again in my opinion, seems to be on the high end “immersive telepresence” systems. But even the “personal telepresence” (now there is a term I coined!) systems tend to err on the side of high quality video and audio.
An honorable goal!
The Movi is an excellent video conferencing application for your Windows based computer. I tested it briefly a while back and found it to be, hmmm, I said this already excellent. It can give you 720p resolution at 30 fps, and great audio with a full range of audio protocols. I connected my test Movi to an H.323 system in Chicago just fine and had a nice trouble free, stumble free conversation. Movi requires you to connect to a server at your company, so it is not a “stand-alone” like us old-timers are used to.
Moving up (in cost).
I have to tell you….I always loved the style, reliability, and video / audio quality from the standalone Tandberg desktop T-1000. The range of desktop stand-alone units has increased. And the style has remained. The “telepresence extension” (whatever that means) E20 is shown to the right. Very cool.
Other products that can be used on the desktop include the “Personal Telepresence” 1700, which looks to be a computer sized monitor with a camera on top. That unit has a built in 4 way MCU and can connect at up to 2 Mbps H.323 or SIP and has “embedded encryption and H.235 and 802.1x authentication” (damn…I am getting old…I need to look those up!). It also supports URI dialing (E164 email@example.com). This device can work in “stand-alone” mode. 🙂
Once again, moving up the cost chain (at least I think) is the EX Series of <—desktop “telepresence” units.
These are bigger (for the bigger desks of managers I suppose?) and look really nice. Video resolutions up to 1080p at 30 fps and 720p at 60 fps mean you can play indoor football and everyone will see the action.
The EX Series supports H.323 and SIP at up to 6 Mbps (!!) and the EX90 (as opposed to the EX60) has a built in 4 way MCU. The EX Series supports H.460.18 and H.460.19 firewall transversal. (I seriously doubt that Andrew Davis would pass up a Porsche for an EX90. Just sayin…)
There are bigger room “personal” systems for higher management “Executive Office” where the offices are, sometimes, immense (like my 1700 sq foot office). You can go to the web site to see the Cisco Telepresence 500, and Cisco Telepresence 1100 to find out more about them. I’m tired. 🙂
Moving up, there are room based systems: Cisco Telepresence MX200 and Profile Series that can serve a small or medium sized conference room. The MX200 –> has a 42″ monitor and both can support up to 1080p at 30 fps and 720p up to 60 fps. They support H.323 and SIP and support a full range of video and audio standards.
At the highest cost level and the most ambitious are the “telepresence” rooms Cisco is famous for. I would hope that they are all standards based now that Tandberg is involved.
Using H.264, the Cisco Telepresence System 3010 for example (and I hope it is representative of the others) connects to H.323 and SIP endpoints and gives you 1080p or 720p at 30 fps (so forget conference room football…just kidding…go for it!). The 3010 sends graphics at 5 fps or with an optional graphics codec at 30 fps (can I show a movie?). It support G.711 and AAC-LD at 22 khz, I would use the latter. 🙂
For those managment types who just love the “experience”….this system should be awesome. For engineers working with a team of designers….come on…use your desktop (and WebEx) or mobile (did I already say that was needed?).
Whew! I told you there was an EXTENSIVE lineup of products.
I’m tired and we are just now leaving endpoints…..but before I leave…the web site and data sheets mention data collaboration (H.239, etc), but, it is not emphasized (just look at the pictures). Be it known that DATA collaboration is a very important part of effective collaboration as a whole (voice, video, and data), and Cisco / Tandberg does support data collaboration. In fact, Tandberg thunk it up…
Infrastructure Hardware (mostly)
OK…maybe I will shorten the examples a bit because if you thought there were a lot of endpoints, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Yikes!
I have to post this picture, because, well, I was one of the first to get one and it worked like a champ for years and became the backbone of the ESnet video conferencing service (once Codian figured out how to give us 40 ports!). Now there are a host of MCU’s (of all types, sizes and flavors) and other stuff they clump under “Telepresence Infrastructure” available from Cisco / Tandberg. Go here.
There are several management tools available (it looks like one from Tandberg, one from Codian, and one from Cisco) to help you manage your endpoints, infrastructure, and calls. I believe the original, stupendously great, TMS system is still still TMS but is now “Telepresence Management System” instead of “Tandberg….” Go here for more info.
Under “Conferencing” comes the Content Servers, Gateways, IP VCR’s….etc etc. Go here for more info.
And last….the cameras and other accessories (no purses, I’m actually shocked).
If you get this far….I will give you 5 “worthless” sub points! They are not actually worthless, but, you need to redeem 50 points to get to pick thru the Treasure Chest.
Cisco was damn lost in the video conferencing industry. Sorry. The arrogance to introduce a “telepresence” system that was PROPRIETARY simply turned me (and I am sure many others) off. And the cost of a “telepresence” room (and you needed TWO). Yikes!
Tandberg saved their butts. Now the line up of products, and services, and tools may be second to none. And with the Tandberg reputation (I hope they have maintained their quality)…..Cisco done good.
Again, they need a mobile app, and I still think rooms (and severely costly telepresence rooms will fade away as the kids of today grow up). The next gen worker will be video conferencing from anyplace, anytime, to anyone. There is simply no need for them to drive to a fancy room to video conference….(UPDATE: See the comment below for a link to “Cisco Jabber”)
Oh yeah…Mike’s Rule #56: You do not NEED an “immersive experience” to get work done (you may WANT it…and that is fine).
It bugs me that Cisco marketeers are changing “video conferencing” to “telepresence”….but, I am an old codger….so maybe I need to get over it. 🙂