Last week Nintendo released the Wii U, the successor to the revolutionary Wii game console. The newest addition supports point-to-point video conferencing capabilities powered by Vidyo technology. Ofer Shapiro, Vidyo CEO, discussed bringing video conferencing to the masses along with the benefits of the Nintendo partnership. However, there have been several comments around whether or not this was the right decision for Vidyo and what this means for the ubiquity of video.

Is deploying a business solution to the masses through a video game going to dilute the brand? You most likely wouldn’t conduct business video call in your living room and you certainly wouldn’t put a video game console in the boardroom.

If that’s the case, won’t this partnership hurt Vidyo more than it helps?

The short answer is no because it opens up a significant realm of possibilities to connect businesses to consumers. Take telehealth for instance; have you ever woken up in the morning with a slight pain in your side and immediately thought what if I have appendicitis? Don’t you wish you could quickly ask a healthcare professional if there’s anything to be concerned about instead of Googling your symptoms and ending up with appendicitis or an abdominal tumor?

Many health insurance companies currently offer 24 hour medical hotlines with access to medical professionals. Unfortunately, without being able to visually see the patient they can only offer limited advice. By connecting over video, the healthcare professionals can more accurately provide advice on certain medical conditions.

For example, Max twists his ankle playing outside and instead of going to the hospital his parents connect over video to a healthcare professional. The doctor asks Max to move his foot and rate the pain, along with a series of other tests, and determines he has just twisted his ankle. The doctor then recommends icing and wrapping Max’s ankle and taking Tylenol as needed for pain. Alternatively, the doctor could decide it might be a more serious issue and Max should go to the hospital for x-rays.

Other possibilities include tutoring sessions where students can connect over video for help with their math homework, instructor led workout classes, or even customer support. Think of the dad trying to build his child’s bicycle and having a couple “extra” pieces. He can easily call in via video, show the support agent the piece and find out where exactly it goes.

Up until this point consumer based, living room video conferencing systems have failed to catch on due to several factors including price and utility. The Wii, however, is a game platform that just happens to have video functionality. This could lead to explosive usage and the endless possibilities noted above.

Of course, interoperability presents a major challenge at the moment. There’s a slight possibility that putting the Wii in offices across the country may lead to a minor decrease in productivity. If Vidyo develops a business or desktop video client that interoperates with Wii the lines between consumer and business video will blur significantly and put us one step closer to true video ubiquity.

This past week people from all over the world attended the Cisco Collaboration Summit for a variety of updates on Cisco’s strategy and product offerings. This year’s theme was Empower, Engage, Innovate. Empower people to make the best use of their workspaces and engage in today’s virtual work environment through mobility, cloud and video. The result is to innovate by discovering new relationships and ideas. Watch the powerful keynote speech along with a case study from Virgin Media here.

The highlight of the keynote speech was a demonstration of the major enhancements to WebEx resulting in a full-scale unified communications solution.

WebEx Meetings, the online meeting application we’ve used for years, still provides an interactive forum for groups to meet and exchange ideas. The major addition to the offering is WebEx Meetings Server. For the first time, an organization can choose to deploy the same WebEx Meetings functionality within their data center on a dedicated server. This allows for greater control and a private cloud implementation.

WebEx Telepresence (formerly Callway) enhances traditional WebEx Meetings with video capabilities. Features include point-to-point video chat or up to nine-way video calling, as well as, a private company directory.

WebEx Messenger provides instant messaging and presence capabilities which includes recommended methods of communications. For example, if a user is on a video call, it will suggest sending an email or leaving a voicemail.

WebEx Social (formerly Quad) provides a social hub within an organization and facilitates collaboration and knowledge sharing. For example, users can type in a project or a question and obtain a list of results. Furthermore, users can seamlessly connect to others within the application from a click of a button.

In a compelling case study, Virgin Media discussed how a combination of these solutions helped enhance both vertical and horizontal collaboration within their organization. Vertical collaboration is enhancing collaboration with the same people users already collaborate with. Horizontal collaboration, on the other hand, creates new opportunities for people to collaborate by expanding the network of people available to collaborate with.

Room based telepresence systems, along with WebEx UC solutions, create a more efficient means of collaboration by connecting a larger and more diverse group of people. The results include increased collaboration along with faster and more agile business decisions.

Additional Resources
Cisco Announces New Cloud Collaboration Capabilities

Yesterday Polycom held a press event at NASDAQ to announce a bevy of products and offerings. This event was the culmination of several years of R&D and the announcements signaled Polycom’s strategic direction for the next several years. Specifically, the announcements surrounded room and personal based video conferencing systems, as well as, new software based solutions and cloud offerings. Specific announcements included:

Move to SVC
Polycom is moving to an open source version of SVC (Scalable Video Coding).  What is particular interesting about this is not only is Polycom gaining the feature benefits of SVC (1080p60, bandwidth scalability, etc), they are also offering up their SVC implementation free to the marketplace. Microsoft has already started working this into their next version of Lync (2013).

New Room Systems
The RealPresence Group Series is a new collection of room based video conferencing endpoints designed for the middle market. These solutions feature the new Polycom UX (User Experience) which is a redesigned interface for the systems that is shared across the entire product line. The new interface makes it easier to schedule and use the systems. In addition, these solutions will offer the SVC codec out of the box.

New Desktop Solution
The RealPresence Desktop solution is Polycom’s software based endpoint supporting both Windows and Mac based operating systems. This solution combines the best of Polycom’s m100 software and CMA managed solution into a single client. The application can run independent or as a part of Polycom’s management tools, enabling infinite scalability. In addition, this app has been enabled with the new SVC codec.

Updated Mobile Solution
Polycom’s RealPresence Mobile is being upgraded to version 2.0. This new release (for both Android and iOS Devices) brings several new features including SmartPairing (the ability for the device to control room systems as well as seamlessly transfer video calls from one device to another), as well as, support for SVC, the new interface introduced in the rest of Polycom’s offerings and compatibility with Polycom’s new Access Director software.

RealPresence Access Director
Access Director is Polycom’s new solution for enabling video within and beyond your firewall.
From Polycom: “RealPresence® Access Director™ is a software-based edge server that enables users within and beyond the firewall to securely access video services—whether at home, in the office, or on the go.”

RealPresence Collaboration Servers
Polycom introduced several key enhancements to their MCU (multipoint control unit) product line that enables SVC, 1080p60, and many other options. In addition, the 800s, Virtual Edition is designed to run purely as a software based solution on industry standard X86 processors.  This opens up an entire new world of virtualized delivery options.

RealPresence CloudAXIS Suite
CloudAXIS brings Polycom’s solution for enabling video connectivity between business level solutions and consumer applications such as Skype and Google Video Chat. The solution is built around a web browser that enables participants to join video calls with nothing more than a webcam. CloudAXIS interfaces with Skype and Google “buddy” lists allowing for easy drag and drop call setup. A user can simply grab a Skype friend, a business connection on a standards based video system, and a Google contact, drag them onto the screen and a call is immediately launched. Polycom is offering this solution to their partners who can then offer a cloud based, subscription model to sell to their customers.

Whew! There was a lot announced yesterday and there is a lot more to come. Over the next week few weeks we will focus on the different solutions, the benefits they offer and how they can impact organizations.

Last week Telework Exchange released “Fly Me to Your Room: Government Video Conferencing Collaboration Report.” This report outlined the benefits of video conferencing and telecommuting that can be realized by the federal government. In the report, the authors interviewed 128 Federal employees in an attempt to understand the value of video within the government.

As a prelude to this report, President Obama issued Executive Order 13589 in November of last year that promoted “efficient spending” and one of the key areas mention was Government travel. What’s truly amazing about this is that the federal government spent $15 billion on travel in 2011. So clearly, reducing travel spend is of top priority!

From the executive order:

“To ensure efficient travel spending, agencies are encouraged to devise strategic alternatives to Government travel, including local or technological alternatives, such as teleconferencing and video conferencing.”

In addition to the potential travel costs savings, the report reveals time savings and productivity time recovered. Respondents reported that video conferencing saves them an average of 3.5 hours of work time a week. In addition, “if just half of Federal government works used video conferencing, the government could save $8 billion annually in productivity costs.”

The numbers are truly astounding. While the government is a huge bureaucracy, even the smallest of organizations can realize a savings when implementing video conferencing.

To read the entire report, click here.

Additional Resources
The Traveler’s Guide to Video Conferencing – Webinar Recording

The video conferencing industry is changing faster than anyone can keep up with. The technological innovations are staggering and many have led to greater reach and lower cost, higher quality video solutions.

One of the latest trends emerging is video conferencing directly within the web browser.  HTML 5 and a new standard known as WebRTC are making many of these solutions possible. WebRTC allows browsers to facilitate real-time communication; including voice, video, and point-to-point file sharing. This new technology will soon be standard in all popular browsers.

This standard is still in a “draft” format from the Web Standards Body but many of the applications that have experimented with it have been quite impressive. Small software companies to major manufacturers of hardware based video conferencing systems have been working with web clients for some time. The advantages of this approach are:

  1. Users can be connected to a video meeting with little to no download and setup time. Currently WebRTC is not finalized so small plugins must be downloaded the first time a user enters a video meeting. In the near future this should be eliminated and the browser will be able to launch directly into the video call.
  2. Beyond a web camera, there are no hardware requirements to participate in a video meeting.
  3. Browsers exist on devices beyond PCs; mobile devices, televisions, tablets, and more. Soon these devices will be video conferencing ready out of the box without any configuration.

There have been a number of announcements that have centered on video conferencing in the web browser including:

Blue Jeans:  This service has bridged the gap between consumer and professional video conferencing offering “meet-me” rooms in the cloud that allow users of pretty much any traditional VC system  to connect with users on Skype, Google Video Chat and Microsoft Lync. Last month, Blue Jeans added a browser-based option to their service. When a user receives an invite to a Blue Jeans meeting, they can click a link and attend via their web browser.

Polycom:  Last year Polycom acquired ViVu, a small organization that had been offering “embeddable” video conferencing into web applications. This week Polycom announced the first initiative based on that acquisition. HP is now shipping a Polycom HD video application with their new web cams. The app makes it easy for users to connect, via video, to any of their contact lists from Facebook, Skype, Google, etc. When a user invites a contact, the receipt simply clicks a link and is immediately launched in a web based video call.

Cisco: A few weeks ago Cisco announced some significant updates to their Quad social portal. The newly branded Cisco Webex Social features integrated video calling that all happens in the browser.

There are sure to be many more announcements and releases around web-based video conferencing. Its impact on the industry remains to be seen, but it is sure to be significant and will only make video even more accessible for everyone.