Industry Briefings: February 2017

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During the course of my regular briefings with industry professionals I often come across information that I find newsworthy. We have created this recurring feature as a way of sharing these items with you. Below, in alphabetical order, are notes and thoughts from a few of my most recent briefings.

IBM
I recently spoke with Robert Ingram, the Senior Product Manager for IBM’s new Watson Workspace solution. IBM has been developing collaboration solutions for quite some time now, going back at least as far as the Lotus days. While the collaboration unit of IBM is more sizable and active than many may realize, I was particularly interested in their new Watson Workspace project.

At this point in time, Workspace is still in a preview stage, with plans to go beta this year. However, Robert was able to show me some of its capabilities and I was more than surprised. To be honest, I simply expected another “me too” persistent team messaging (PTM) solution. The immense popularity and adoption of Slack and similar solutions has established a market for these types of offerings. It is no surprise that an organization with the development chops of IBM would be interested in taking a bite of this apple.

However, after talking to Robert I realized that this is no mere “me too” solution. There were a number of impressive capabilities in this demo; including helpful summaries of recent conversations and even integration with Slack itself. I was most impressed with the application of cognitive intelligence. In other words, this thing can think. Remember, IBM is the company that created Watson, the supercomputer that can beat chess masters and win at Jeopardy. Now imagine applying that type of cognitive thinking to a PTM solution. In other words, IBM is putting Watson to work.

Those of us who use today’s PTM solutions are used to “bots” that understand certain commands and support certain integrations. For example, some PTM solutions work with Salesforce, allowing users to create new opportunities by typing slash comments. Watson takes this to the next level, by understanding and contextualizing natural language. With a typical solution, you might type “/sf list opportunities” to pull information from Salesforce. With Workspace you might be chatting with a co-worker and mention, in natural language, that you wonder what your top opportunities are at the moment. Watson will see that conversation, understand it, and pull the information for you. With this simple example, I think you can see the massive potential. I can’t wait to see how this continues to develop.

Locus
Chris Ward, Co-Founder of the startup behind Locus gave me the scoop on this unique new free video service. The company does not come from the video industry or have backgrounds in video technology. They are users of video who were looking for a new type of video experience. Video participants appear in frames on a backdrop to create a “virtual room” experience. The solution has some interesting and uncommon features, such as positional audio. It works best while wearing headphones, but the concept is that voices will sound like they are coming from a location within a virtual space (not just left or right speaker). The result is that two conversations can be happening at once, and you somehow still focus on, and understand, each speaker, similar to being at a cocktail party.

Locus is also interesting for being a peer-to-peer service. This means the audio/video signals are sent directly between participants, rather than through a central “bridge” server. This means latency may be reduced, although it limits the size of meetings to 6 people at this time. Another cool feature is the ability to share YouTube videos and watch them natively in your browser. As many of you have experienced, sharing a YouTube video through traditional screenshare can result in low frame-rate and poor audio quality. It’s different and kind of fun, so check it out for yourself, it’s free and doesn’t require a download so there is no risk.

Logitech
Logitech is incredibly dominant in the webcam market, but it’s been awhile since we’ve seen a new webcam. Honestly, I haven’t really been looking for anything new. The C930e that I currently use leaves little to be desired with 1080p resolution and RightLight 2, giving great performance in both low and overly bright light situations. So when Joan Vandermate (Head of Marketing, Collaboration Business Unit) offered to brief me on their latest offering I was very curious. The new Logitech Brio takes full advantage of Logitech’s latest technology developments and offers a number of industry firsts.

It is the first webcam at this price range (suggested retail $199) which offers 4k resolution with HDR. Now you might be wondering why we need 4k when only one video service (Vidyo) can even support 4k resolution. First of all, you want to future-proof as 4k is likely to be a real thing in the next few years. Second of all, with a 4k camera you can digitally zoom in (with up to 5X zoom supported) and still get an HD (1080p or 720p depending on how far in you zoom) image. This allows to, for example, zoom in on the whiteboard at the back of the room and maintain a clear image. I’m perhaps more excited by the idea of 1080p at 60 frames per second or 720p at 90fps. High frame rate video just looks really good.

The Logitech Brio improves upon the “RightLight” technology that I appreciate in the C930e. Brio has version 3 of this technology. Version 1 helped with low light, version 2 (found in the C930e) also helped with overly bright lights, and version 3 adds high contrast for a more natural and flattering view. Perhaps the coolest new feature is an infrared sensor that works with Windows Hello and KeyLemon for advanced facial recognition. No more concerns about forgetting your Windows password, your computer can now recognize your face and log you in. This will work in secure environments as it is not easy to trick, it can even tell the difference between identical twins! IT people will be so relieved to no longer have to spend countless hours resetting forgetful employees passwords.

There is more to this camera, including adjustable fields of view to frame yourself better, and the ability to “green screen” without hanging up an actual green screen. I look forward to sharing more about these capabilities as soon as I get my hands on one.

MNS
I spoke with Hans Fredrik Johansen (CEO) to catch up on latest developments at Media Network Services. They saw great growth in 2016, in both their network services and their REC.VC video recording service. Their services are actually used by a number of providers, although their whitelabeling business model means many of you may be using these services without knowing it. One priority for this year will be step into the limelight a bit more, and let users know that they are the “Intel Inside” powering some of your favorite video apps.

One new development that I found particularly interesting is the ability to harvest data from video recordings and auto-transcribe it. This data can then be used for a number of purposes from tracking meeting attendance to following corporate culture developments. As we develop more “Watson-like” intelligent software and applications, this kind of data will be invaluable.

Polycom
While immersive telepresence (the big, three screen, solutions) are no longer the darling of the video industry, they are still in demand in some sectors. They also still serve as a flagship product and technology showcase for our market leaders. Polycom’s latest release in this space is following along the general market trends of more flexibility and affordability. I met with Brian Phillips (Senior Product Marketing Manager) to get the details on the new Immersive Studio Flex. Now, to keep it in perspective, more affordable in the context of immersive telepresence means the $189,000 range, which is a nice drop from the $300,000 range of the top of the line OTX solution.

The new line of solutions is not only more affordable, but more flexible. First of all, it is available without the entire furniture accompaniments, further dropping the price to the $149,000 range. It also offers the latest in Polycom technology, including 4k displays and 3D Voice, which is an advanced version (using ceiling mics) of providing the “cocktail party” effect I described above in the Locus briefing. Rather than having the voices appear to come from a specific location in a virtual space, with Immersive Studio Flex the voices will sound like they are coming from the active speaker’s mouth. This will really help with the immersive effect and trick the mind into feeling like you are actually in the same room with the remote participants.

With all the activity happening on the business side of Polycom, it is great to know that they are continuing to push development efforts. While you won’t be seeing an Immersive Studio Flex in every meeting room, we can certainly expect the technology to trickle down to their more mainstream offerings.

Vidyo
The team at Vidyo recently announced their new Vidyo.io offering. I spoke with Ben Pinkerton (Director of Product Marketing) to get a better understanding of this unique entry into our market. Vidyo.io is a communications platfom-as-a-service (CPaaS), which opens the doors for application developers who want to include video in their services, but don’t want to learn how to code video protocals themselves. You just create the rest of your application and pop in the Vidyo.io API.

The video itself will be hosted by Vidyo, and leverage their powerful patented technology to provide high quality multiparty videoconferencing, even on mobile devices. The ease of use for developers really took me surprise. I expected that users of the platform would have to contact Vidyo and work closely with their coders to co-develop an integrated app. It is far easier than that. Developers can simply go to the Vidyo.io website, sign up for an account, read the documentation, and pop the appropriate code into their app. They even get 100,000 minutes free (limited time offer), which is plenty of time for them to play around with various implementations until they get the final result they are looking for. After that it is just $65 per month for 6,500 minutes.

I’ve always been a fan of Vidyo, as I believe it is the only videoconferencing platform that provides a multi-party experience without the compromises of peer-to-peer, or bridged calls. Peer to peer calls are limited in scalability, and bridged calls add latency as the bridge processes the calls. Vidyo’s calls are simply routed through its servers, which allows for high scalability without additional latency/processing. Vidyo’s Scalable Video Coding (SVC) is one of the most coveted patented technologies in our space, as it “layers” the video signal. This allows for layers adding higher quality to be dropped in low or shaky bandwidth conditions, protecting the base layer of the call. This is why you can have a reliable Vidyo call in the worst situations, providing business quality calls even on mobile devices. The ability to easily pop Vidyo’s video into any new app should have developers chomping at the bit.

I also had a follow up discussion with Sam Waicberg (Senior Vice President, Marketing and Business Development) to learn more about VidyoXchange. With all this talk about the power, flexibility, and availability of the Vidyo platform, you may be interested in learning more about what their customers have built with Vidyo. VidyoXchange is a showcase of over 50 (with another 30-50 coming soon) of Vidyo’s customers, sortable by category and vertical industry. The wide range of products and services, as well as the high profile of many of these customers is a testament to Vidyo’s technology

VTCSecure
I recently had the opportunity to evaluate PUC (Personal Universal Communicator) an interesting application from VTCSecure. While it appeared, at first glance, to be a UC client, it is actually a videophone for the hearing and vision impaired communities. As such, it offered a number of unique features and workflow options perfectly designed for its target audience. Peter Hayes (CEO) explained how their services include a full PBX cloud platform as well as a call center platform designed to serve basic communication needs, as well as offer cutting edge features such as real time speech to text. The capability set makes VTCSecure attractive for other verticals as well, including law enforcement, first responders, retail kiosks, and more. VTCSecure’s capabilities include:

  • Instant set up for direct ASL services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
  • Access to TRS, VRS, VRI, VRA, with most endpoints the Deaf Community uses for VRS.
  • Free P.U.C. (personal universal communicator) software endpoint Android, iOS, MAC, PC.
  • Text output compatible with braille reader writers to support the Deaf Blind.
  • Can be used to support Blind customers right from their mobile device.
  • Automated speech to text can be used for Hard of Hearing Customers.
  • Interoperable with many of the foreign language translation companies via audio or video.
  • GPS, E-911, & Network Wide Alerting.
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About Author

David Maldow is the Founder & CEO of Let's Do Video and one of the visual collaboration industry's most prolific writers. Prior to founding Let’s Do Video, David was Managing Partner at Telepresence Options, one of the industry’s most recognized print publication and news sites. It was there that he authored 150+ pieces of public content, gaining him recognition as an industry expert. Earlier in his career, David managed the Wainhouse Research Video Test Lab, where he developed the ability to assess products / solutions from an IT perspective, but with an eye for user experience and adoptability.

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