Tag Archives: Telepresence

iRobot Ava 500: Next-Gen Telepresence Roll-About

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Photo: iRobot

Telepresence robots are not only a sci-fi part of TV shows such as the “Shelbot” as seen in “The Big Bang Theory”. A new telepresence robot has been announced: iRobot mounts Cisco EX60 TelePresence units on their cutting edge, auto-moving robots and introduces the iRobot Ava 500.

iRobot Ava 500 Introduction

The iRobot Corporation is an U.S. based company founded in 1990 and one of the pioneers of telepresence robot technology. Their portfolio includes robots for domestic use as well as solutions for police and military forces. Now they have introduced the Ava 500 and moving into enterprises and manufacturing sector by enhancing the iRobot technology with the Cisco EX60 TelePresence unit for HD video conferencing features.

Ava 500 is not only able to be remotely moved, but can also move autonomously to a target location without the effort of actually steering the unit. This enables the users to use the scheduling function to make sure that the Ava 500 robot is in the desired position at a planned time and date. All information about its position and move can be tracked on an app via iPad or iPhone and does not require in-depth technical insight.

In order to be able to move autonomously Ava 500 will make an “exploration” run when placed in a building for the first time. The area will be scanned and all information will be recorded on its location map, which then can be used by the user easily to tap to a location using only the touch screen of the iPad or iPhone. POIs, such as conference rooms or employees workstations, can be placed on the map for easy access. Even though the user does not actively have to steer the unit, it will still be possible to view the camera feed of the moving Ava 500 and to say “hi” to co-workers passing by. After a session is complete, the Ava 500 unit will automatically move back to it’s docking station to charge up again.

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Photo: iRobot

Professional Video Conferencing

Having the Cisco EX60 TelePresence unit mounted, the video conferencing part of the robot can be maintained and managed by the VNOC (Video Network Operations Centre) just like any other Cisco TelePresence endpoint. Therefore maintaining full interoperability, security and ability to register the unit to Cisco TMS (TelePresence Management Suite) and the Cisco VCS (Video Communication Server) for easy management.

Quick Facts

  • Autonomous navigation in office buildings, laboratories, manufacturing floors, etc.
  • Remote control with iOS devices (iPad, iPhone)
  • Cisco EX60 with HD capability and auto-focus camera take care of the AV transmissions
  • Wireless connection on enterprise level with the Cisco Aironet 1600
  • Height adjustment to make sure you look your conversation partner in the eyes
  • Scheduling function makes sure the robot is in the meeting room when you need it to be
  • Release estimated in early 2014
  • Price not yet announced

Summary

The iRobot Ava 500 brings together high-tech robotics and cutting edge video conferencing technology in a futuristic looking device to assist corporate communications and collaboration on a new level without compromises to interoperability.

Thanks to Caitlin Kullberg of iRobot for helping me with the research and photo material. I’m looking forward to see one of these guys moving around in the future. How would you like using this robot on your “working-from-home” day or visiting a remote location with the ability to explore the campus? Let us know of your opinion in the comment section below.


iRobot Ava™ 500 Video Collaboration Robot

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVviDvsBQ78&w=575]

China Taking Video Conferencing One Step Further: TeleEducation from Space

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Photo: CMSE

We often hear about the use of video conferencing for professional communication and as a modern way to work together. So much sometimes, that we forget how large the potential is even beyond that. For instance it can be used for TeleEducation (a type of Telepresence).

What is TeleEducation?

TeleEducation usually replicates a guided way of learning wherein a presenter, expert or teacher speaks to the “class” from a remote location with the use of unified communication technologies such as video conferencing, often with additional content channel for demonstration and data presentation. LifeSize, for instance, is organising great virtual field trips for classes to be connected directly into museums, where their guide can teach them in a way that is exciting for both presenting party and participants.

Teachers from Outer-Space

China is taking this approach one step higher – above stratosphere to be exact. Yesterday we received word that Wang Yaping, in her capacity as  Taikonaut, has facilitated such an TeleEducation event from the space station Tiangong-1 together with her team. The space video conference was set up with an auditorium in Beijing, hosting more than 300 students. The three Taikonauts demonstrated the effect of zero gravity and weightlessness to physics and answered questions from the students live.

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Photo: CMSE

Mass-Audience

Another 60 million students followed the live video stream from their classrooms throughout the country. Now that’s a serious audience there! While this event was broadcasted on a state-owned CCTV technology, the next event like this might already be facilitated using IP video streaming solutions. If that was the case, the event could be natively recorded and stored on video-on-demand platforms to be seen by many generations of students to come.

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Photo: AP

About the Station

The Tiangong-1 space station was launched September 2011 and mainly has experimental functions and holds three crew members . It is considered a large step towards a Chinese space laboratory, to be completed by about 2020. Tiangong-1 (Chinese: 天宫一号) literally means “Heavenly Palace 1” and is the first space station deployed by the Chinese space program. The module 1 has a planned lifespan of 2 years and is planned to be replaced by larger modules throughout the decade. The Telepresence24.com team wishes best success and hopes for many more TeleEducation events.


Astronauts give science lesson live from space (via ITN)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Po8q4rTRsOA&w=575]

What is WebRTC? – Overview for Busy People

webrtc, logo, chat, bubble, shapes, colours, colorsNo other topic is roaming the news and social media as much as WebRTC these days. But what is WebRTC and what should it mean to you?

Today I would like to give you an overview around this trend and where it came from. In this article I would like to try out the “For Busy People” article format by consolidating all hot topics into quick facts to add value to you without getting side-tracked. I know you busy people are busy and so you can just skip the parts of the article that you are not interested in.

What does WebRTC stand for?

WebRTC means Web Real-Time Communication, so we are talking about ways to communicate without any delay, based on a web-browser, without the use of software that needs to be installed beforehand.

What is WebRTC?

WebRTC is an open framework for placing real-time communication components on web-pages and is controlled by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), who are also taking care of other web-standards such as HTML, XML, CSS and others. WebRTC components could include methods such as VoIP, Instant Messaging (or just “chat”), video conferencing or a combination of these. Personally I would count WebRTC to the umbrella of Unified Communications, but the actual use of the WebRTC solutions depend on each enterprise.

Where does WebRTC come from?

WebRTC technology was first developed by Global IP Solutions (or GIPS), a company founded around 1999 in Sweden. In 2011 GIPS was acquired by Google and the W3C started to work on a standard for WebRTC. Since then Google and other major players in the web-browser market, such as Mozilla and Opera, have been showing great support for WebRTC.

How does WebRTC work?

The framework is based on HTML5 and JavaScript but does not utilise SIP or H.323 like other Unified Communication solutions. The signalling and transfer of data works over RTP and with an XMPP extension called “Jingle”. With the newly introduced JavaScript Session Establishment Protocol (JSEP) direct connections can be established without the need of a piece of hardware in the middle. Depending on the deployment audio, video and / or other data can now be exchanged to allow WebRTC to happen in your browser.

And for our firewall traversal specialists: WebRTC can do STUN, ICE, TURN, RTP-over-TCP and supports proxies. What else do you wish for?

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How does WebRTC work? – Click for larger pop-up

What does WebRTC mean to me?

Imagine the impact of 1,000,000,000+ endpoints. Not bad! This is the potential amount of endpoints talking to each other and making VoIP calls or even video conferences. Even though Microsoft is strongly pushing Skype for desktop video conferencing, they are also making sure that their Internet Explorer is ready to take on the WebRTC challenge.

But the missing link right now is: Will there be interoperability between WebRTC and other Unified Communication solutions? I believe the first developers, making both worlds compatible to each other will have edge.

Examples for WebRTC?

The possibilities are impossible to count. Especially in the age of BYOD everyone has their smartphone always ready and beyond that every notebook and desktop PC could participate in WebRTC. Here are some examples I could think of:

  • Customer service via video conference (the end of the service hotline?)
  • Working together on documents via web (web-collaboration beyond firewalls)
  • Smart-TVs allow you do do video conferences without infrastructure or service running in the back (if there’s a browser – there’s a way!)
  • Not interested in video conferences? Have a video diary! (takes only cloud storage and WebRTC)
  • WebRTC might change the face of Social Media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter completely if implemented (why not quickly talk about it?)
  • Instead of displaying phone numbers to your common window-shopper, provide a QR-code or a NFC space, so users can reach directly to you with their smartphone or tablet (we got a camera, a mic, a speaker – so let’s use them!)

Is there a WebRTC presentation?

You are lucky! Google has recently released a web-based presentation with a lot of interesting slides. I have also added a video below, for your to get some more details on WebRTC, Let me know of your thoughts!


Web Real-time communication – Google I/O 2013 – by Justin Uberti

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2HzZkd2A40&w=575]

All New Viber: Cross-Platform Monster for Consumers

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Viber Desktop with all new features (Image by Viber Media Inc.)

Some of you might know Viber already and that they are  now also providing a solution for Windows and Mac based workstations. For everyone else here is a quick introduction to Viber:

What is Viber?

Viber is a cross-platform VoIP solution for consumers developed by Viber Media Inc. It was first introduced to iOS in December 2010. Since then they have been increasing support for other smartphone platforms such as Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Nokia Symbian and Samsung Bada. Their app does not cost anything but the initial registration requires a SMS to be send for validating your phone number.

What’s new?

On May 7, 2013 Viber released software clients for Windows and Mac. So you are able to install the application on your computer or notebook and register with your phone number to synchronise contacts. When you are logged in with both your smartphone and a desktop client at the same time you can move any active call to the other device.

Features

So what value does it add to your unified communications environment? Here are some of the new (and some old) features that might come in handy:

Positioning

The Viber solution is clearly positioned in the consumer market and gained wide popularity among users in that category. So far I have not come across enterprises utilising Viber as part of their unified communications strategy. If you are using Viber for professional purposes please feel invited to share your experiences in the comment section below.

Competition

As the Facebook Chat app is currently tested for possible VoIP features and beta tested, Viber seeks to increase their solution portfolio to maintain market share and this release seems to be the result of that. Other in-direct competitors of consumer-based unified communication tools are solutions such as WhatsApp for instant messaging and Skype for video conferencing.

Possible Business Usage

If you and your social network connections list their smartphone number along with the social profile, and install the apps of such on their smartphone they will see each other on Viber. Being completely synchronised  they will be able to communicate via VoIP, video conference or instant message beyond their enterprises unified communications abilities. This should serve for non-critical communication only though, as consumer solutions might not be sufficient to match your organisations IT security policies.


The Viber Desktop Introduction Video

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEqS5W-KfRw]

Microsoft Lync 2013 – New Feature Overview

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Microsoft Lync 2013 – Main Window

Are you planning to upgrade your unified communications IM client? Following up on the article “What Is Microsoft Lync?” by Mark Stubbles we would like to introduce you today to all new features of Microsoft Lync 2013.

In comparison the Microsoft Office Communicator (also known as OCS) had the look and feel of Windows XP, the Lync 2010 update brought it up to speed with the Windows 7 design and finally Lync 2013 has the looks of the Windows 8 and Office 365 environment. But of course there is much more under the hood than just eye-candy. I listed below a few of the new features that were most interesting to me.

Overview of new features in Lync 2013

Visual Features:

The main window has been optimized to provide better access and a more intuitive using of the application. The new tabbed conversation feature gets rid of having several chat windows open at the same time – so you can keep track of all your conversations in a single place and just have to browse through them. Similar to the tabbed browsing of Google Chrome you are also able to move a certain chat out of the tabbed conversations and provide them with their own window and naturally you can move it back into the tabbed conversation window.

And for everyone who would like to display the images and fonts larger they can easily adjust the display setup in the configuration of the client. This is not only a help to users with sight challenges, but also can be useful for a deployment on wall-mounted displays.

Easier Deployment:

The main Lync 2013 client and the Online Meeting add-in is now included in the setup program of Office 2013 so deployment on the software side has been made significantly easier, especially for large enterprises with many thousands of workstations.

However because this part has changed Microsoft has also changed how the group policy is deployed. Instead of working on the communicator.adm file to define policies, certain ADMX and ADML admin templates are provided along with Office Policy Administrative Templates to work on. For more information on this particular topic I suggest reading the Microsoft article on “Group Policy Settings for Lync 2013“.

BYOD Enhancements:

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Microsoft Lync 2013 – Calling a Smartphone

With Lync 2010 the App for smartphone, there was only support for presence and instant messaging while the new Lync 2013 App for smartphones and tablets also supports Voice calls and mobile video conferencing over WiFi and cellular data connection alike. Regardless of the fact that many desk phones can be connected with your Lync client, utilizing Lync on smartphones and Lync on PCs within your organisation your permanently replace the requirement of having a separate hardware phone on your desk and cutting costs for invest and maintenance by enforcing unified communications technology. For a more detailed overview of the features for mobile Lync I recommend the “Mobile Client Comparison Tables” page by Microsoft.

The users accessing from non-corporate workstations via browser also get some good news. The Lync 2013 Web App for web-based conferencing received support for voice and high definition video conferencing devices. Meeting participants can also show their screens for collaboration or presentation and re-assign the presenter role to others – They get the full Lync 2013 meeting experience without having the software client installed on the machine.

Functional Features:

The Lync 2013 client can handle virtual environment better. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) fully supports audio and video devices, like a headset and a webcam, to be connected to the client even though you might be using a virtual machine such as a thin client or a differently re-purposed workstation. For more details on how to deploy the Lync VDI plug-in please check the Microsoft TechNet article.

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Microsoft Lync 2013 – Chat Room Integration

Another interesting new feature is the chat room integration (also known as persistent chat rooms or topic feeds). In older versions you were already able to create group conversations for multiple users to chat or hold a presentation for instance. In the new Lync 2013 however these can be promoted to be permanent and will be also available for others to be joined, including all the content that was added and when. It might not be applicable to all services and organisations, but this feature might the need for static email lists and adds a new dynamic way of sharing information and making such available for all. If you don’t want it to be available for all users, there is also the option to limit the visibility to certain users or user groups.

Also newly implemented is a feature that lets Lync 2013 automatically assign you with “presenting” status, to block incoming communication unless the sender is in an approved group. If you are a two-screen users however this is not automatically done for you, if you use the secondary screen as presenting space.

You may have made experience with previous versions of the client that you would like to keep a certain conversation up for reference but you need to restart the machine. What happens? The information is gone. In the new Lync 2013 once you are back booted up, the conversation comes back along with the content of the conversation, you held before rebooting. I found this to be quite the time-saver in those moments.

Improvements of already deployed functions:

  • Outlook Meeting Scheduling updated
  • Native Video Conferencing enhanced
  • Web App and Mobile App now support voice and video conferencing
  • Contact and card view was improved
  • Meeting participation functions were heavily improved for better collaboration

Have you tried Lync 2013 out yet? Missed your favourite new feature? I would be delighted to hear your opinion. Drop us your comment below!

Common Technologies Complicate The Telecommuting Debate

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Photo by Victor1558

Twitter and the blogosphere have been completely immersed in a fierce debate over the merits of telecommuting vs. coming into the office to work thanks to actions taken by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer a couple of weeks ago. With the adoption of new technologies, including widespread use of smartphones, video conference software, and VoIP PBX phone systems, how important is it to come into the office every day? The answer is: we’re not really sure. There are too many entries in the debate to read through, but here are a couple of the main arguments from each side:

I can be just as productive at home

The core of this argument lies in the technology that most professionals have at their disposal these days out of necessity. Most people have access to a broadband internet connection at any given moment, whether it’s in their home or the café down the street.  If a business invests in the proper IT, they can offer their employees a myriad of ways to connect to workers who are based at the office and fellow telecommuters. Thanks to unified communications tools in addition to even more advanced conferencing applications, employees can be “at the office” while in the comfort of their own home. This saves workers from being distracted by the day to day social goings on at the office, as well as the time suck that is the morning and evening commutes. With the addition of VoIP PBX phone systems that allow for “virtual” offices in any location, proponents of telecommuting see no real need to spend every day at the office.

Only an office can provide the collaborative atmosphere a business needs

Those on Mayer’s side think that even though there are these technologies available, nothing can replace the benefits of face-to-face interaction and socializing. Water cooler talk isn’t just about talking about last night’s football game. It’s also about brainstorming and hashing out strategies pertaining to the day’s projects. Working in the office is also about being able to have proper oversight when it comes to worker productivity. Bosses like Mayer want to foster a sense of community at the workplace so employees will feel like they’re a part of a team working towards a goal that everyone will benefit from.

Who’s right? 

It’s impossible to say who’s right. It comes down to management style and people’s individual personalities. Some people do their best work at home while others get hopelessly distracted. But with unified communications technology available, there’s no reason why people can’t alternate between the two. Working from home half the week and the office the other half might provide employees with the best of both worlds.

Personal Telepresence – Software Solution Comparison

Telepresence on your desk is a great enhancement to the benefits of video collaboration. It enables you to join meetings ad-hoc and (at least for me) replaced the need for doing a phone call. Even if hardware based endpoints are not available there are software solutions available for personal telepresence.

Throughout 2012 I have been using a hardware-based endpoint for quick communication via video and since January 2013 I switched to a software-based solution. I tried out a few and wanted to share the comparison with you.

In the personal telepresence solution comparison below, I listed several options on personal telepresence software clients or web conferencing solutions with video conferencing functions. You will also find links to each solution further down, in case you would like to get more details on the products.

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The Telepresence24.com comparison for software-based personal telepresence solution – Updated 22.4.13 – Click to enlarge

My requirements

In the comparison we considered most features and functions but to keep it short and sweet, we published only the most popular and relevant ones. For myself I have a strong focus on security and encryption as well as the ability to call all other H.323 based endpoints and infrastructure devices. With the Videoconference24 client for example I am able to call any box no matter if it is from Huawei, LifeSize, Cisco, Radvision / Avaya, Polycom or similar manufacturers. As long a software-client supports standard SIP or H.323 calling those is also possible – you get the idea: I want to reach them all and I want my line secure even through public internet!

Beside that I enjoy the ability to invite for multipoint video conferences without reserving resources on a separate MCU. In most cases this would cost money yet again and like this I can completely cut both the invest in MCUs as well as starting a video call for right now, without booking nor calling anyone to prepare my conference. Of course video conferencing managed services do make sense in many occasions but just for a sudden meeting I don’t need someone on top of things.

Participants of comparison:

There are more solutions than that available and if you would like to add the solution you have good experiences in please feel welcome to let us know in the comment section below. As usually I am more than happy to update the comparison in collaboration with you.

Summary

I am now using the Videoconference24 solution provided by Global Media Services and don’t have a broken heart when I think back to my hardware-based endpoint from last year. Just one thing I would like to add is that when you are saving big-time money going to software-based solutions: Get high-end peripherals for it! You don’t want to be the VGA person in a HD call because you are using the old webcam back from the days. Recommended gear (in my books) comes from makers such as Logitech and Jabra.

What are you using? And … are you happy with it? I want to know your opinion!

Why ITIL is such a Crucial Criterion for Video Conference Managed Services

ITIL Standards everywhere – also relevant for AV services?

The ITIL Framework is the acronym for Information Technology Infrastructure Library and constitutes an important framework for professional IT Service Management in most IT departments. The ITIL framework is constantly developed further and at the moment the ITIL v3 Edition is on the market.

Why is ITIL so important for AV, Media Technology and Video Conference Managed Services?

This question is easy to answer, but more complex to implement. The technical development of Video Conference Services, Telepresence solutions and conference room technology progresses very fast. The probably most characteristic trait in this technical development of media technology is the fact that systems increasingly can be implemented in networks. The development from ISDN based video conferences to IP based video conferences had a big share in this. However, also other components of media technology are produced in an IP friendly way, such as media technology for signal management, Routing or Room Control. The idea is to establish easier management and monitoring of media technology, ideally from a remote location.

The development described above further leads to changing responsibilities within the sector of media technology in companies. Previously facility management was responsible for media and room technology, whereas today IT departments increasingly take over the responsibility for IP based media technology and video conferences.

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To master these new responsibilities IT departments also pose new challenges to suppliers and operators of media technology, so-called Video Conference Managed Services providers. Video Conference Managed Service providers should speak the same language as other IT sectors (network, firewall, security, etc.), but additionally should have expert knowledge about video conferences and media technology. The ITIL framework makes it easier to find a common language and makes it possible to implement and optimize cross-sector processes. External service providers are quite often asked to use internal tools and ITSM platforms, in doing so incident or problem management, but also knowledge management are portrayed according to standardized processes.

This development means a big investment in an ITIL certification for Video Conference Manages Services Providers, who often also have to adapt established processes internally. Many providers simply lack the experience in big ITIL environments.

Companies that look into the possibility of implementing  Video Conference Managed Services in order to operate video conference infrastructures, video conference systems or Video Conference Bridging Services, should take a close look at the potential providers’ technical capacities in IT processes and ITIL frameworks, next to technical expert knowledge and experience with video conferences of course.

Polycom enables Telepresence with Skype, Facebook and Google

Telepresence with anyone?

Today I would like to present you something I considered rather exciting news. So far only the Blue Jeans Network MCU solution was able to bridge Skype users into enterprise-class video conferences but this might change and might even be bested by Polycom.

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So what’s new?

Announcing “Business Class Video Conferencing with Anyone”, Polycom is extending their RealPresence CloudAXIS Suite to be compatible with pre-industry telepresence applications including Skype, Google Talk and Facebook Video Chat. Beyond that it is said that anyone with merely a browser and webcam will be able to join video conferences as well, no matter if they are within the firewall or outside of it.

All your contacts from those directories along with your corporate contact list will be available in a single platform. Simply point and click your participants to establish an enterprise-grade secured video conference. Further they are including smartphones and tablets to be available for video calls.

Content sharing is said to be available even though it is yet to be seen how that works with clients like Facebook Video Chat that do not support a content channel by default. I am keen on seeing more of this solution.

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When will it be available?

The extension is expected to be available in April 2013. Contact your Polycom Sales Rep or visit their webpage for further information. If you already had some insight into the solution feel welcome to share your comments with us below.


Demonstration of the Polycom RealPresence CloudAXIS Suite with new features to work with Skype, Facebook and Google

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICVttZzDysM

Have An Ultimate Experience With The LifeSize Icon Video Conferencing System

They are out: Check out the new LifeSize Icon series video conferencing endpoints!

Gone are those days, when business was concentrated at a single location. This era witnesses the spread out of business, globally. Many businesses have their bases in in numerous countries of the world or in many cities across a country, so it is not possible to monitor the production team or any other unit of a company by making a physical presence. This calls for the extensively emerging need of ‘video conferencing’, which makes it easier for the business heads to visit all the units or conduct meetings worldwide, and finally, enjoy supper with the family. Doesn’t it feel contended? Of course, it does!

 

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Like it or not! Video conferencing is on a fast transitional phase. Now, it is about the best quality to have best business meetings. Companies are looking out for systems that provide seamless experience, which is easy to use, efficient and budget friendly.

Bearing all the factors in mind, LifeSize has come up with a newly designed system – the Icon series. LifeSize, a division of Logitech, has introduced this system that not only eliminates the cost, but also renders a system that can be used on the go, as soon as the system is installed, without any substantial training.

Colin Buechler, CEO of LifeSize, motioned that the interface of this system is easy to handle, as it doesn’t have too many buttons, to make the system complex to handle. According to him, cost and the system complexity are the two major reasons for any company to be away from the adoption of a video conferencing system and LifeSize has taken care of these factors, while developing its system.

According to LifeSize, Icon Series can be deployed with LifeSize UVC applications that make video conferencing more efficient and flexible. When a video conference is a concern, there are two major factors that are taken into consideration—image and audio quality. So, here is certain in-depth information regarding these two qualities:

High Definition Image

LifeSize cameras provide high definition image, with a wide angle of 70 degrees. The camera lens is empowered by up to 10x optical zoom. The camera supports the highest video performance available and delivers flawless 1080p60 for ultimate clarity and fluid motion.

High Definition Audio

High definition image doesn’t suffice the need of an efficient video conference, it requires having an echo free audio too. The built LifeSize Digital MicPod in the Icon series systems delivers a great feel of Telepresence , as it has an omnidirectional microphone with strong audio processing and delivering capability. Also, if you want to have a standalone environment, you can soon integrate LifeSize touch-screen phone into the system.

Now how much is that?

What are you waiting for? LifeSize Icon series has already arrived and is available at a starting price of 2,999 USD (depending on your region and selected features). Check out their homepage for more information and request a demo!


The LifeSize Icon Series Commercial

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-Ptq1l6fy4]