Vidyo telepresence will let more sites join in

The company's VidyoPanorama system will allow for up to 20 screens in a meeting

Videoconferencing underdog Vidyo says it will outshine and undercut its bigger rivals with VidyoPanorama, a high-definition telepresence system that eventually will be able to run on 20 screens in one location.

Having 20 screens displaying videoconference participants simultaneously will allow more remote workers to join in on meetings through desktops and on mobile devices, which Vidyo's software works on and which Vidyo and others see as the future of videoconferencing. VidyoPanorama will be able to run on Apple's iPhone and iPad devices and on Android phones and tablets including the Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy.

Room systems for immersive videoconferencing from big names such as Polycom and Cisco Systems are only designed with up to four screens in a given location, which forces those systems to switch the displays among the participants if there are many sites represented. Vidyo says it has raised that limit, opening the door to bigger meetings as well as specialized uses such as remote monitoring stations for nurses to watch patients, said Young-Sae Song, vice president of product marketing at Vidyo.

Vidyo has also raised the bar on display quality with VidyoPanorama, supporting resolution as high as 1080p at 60fps (frames per second), up from the industry standard of 1080p at 30fps.

Unlike the big-name videoconferencing vendors, Vidyo builds its business around its software, which runs on standard servers and uses off-the-shelf components. Because it doesn't make its own displays, cameras, microphones and furniture, Vidyo can price its systems lower than those from major rivals, Song said. VidyoPanorama platforms start at less than US$40,000 for a four-screen configuration with 720p and 60fps. A 20-screen system, which should be available early next year, will cost about $4,500 per screen, Song said. By contrast, Cisco's TelePresence Meeting System is priced well into six figures for a three-screen room system.

Vidyo sets itself apart from other vendors with its video coding software, which uses bandwidth more efficiently and allows Vidyo's systems to run over the open Internet rather than specialized networks. This can cut operational costs. But this capability, and the company's embrace of third-party hardware, also should give Vidyo an edge in extending videoconferencing to tablets and smartphones, said Wainhouse Research analyst Andrew Davis.

"Their technology lends itself better to extremely heterogeneous environments," Davis said. Like Vidyo and some other vendors, Davis believes mobile devices represent the future of videoconferencing.

However, mobile participants won't be able to join in at the highest quality Vidyo offers, and the super-high definition that VidyoPanorama supports won't be able to go over narrow Internet connections. Song estimated that a 720p signal at 30fps could run over a 500K bps (bit-per-second) link but a 1080p, 60fps signal would require 2M bps. Those bandwidth requirements are for each screen at a given site. Video quality from a given participant depends on the camera quality and processing power of the device, plus the network connection, Song said.

Allowing for more screens in a room will help with sessions with individual participants joining from many locations, but not with meetings between larger groups in a few sites, Davis said. By contrast, room systems from Cisco and other vendors are designed with multiple cameras per location to accommodate several participants who appear at full size, he said.

"It has a different spin," Davis said. "It makes sense to me only in a multipoint environment."

Vidyo's advantage in resolution may make images more realistic with smoother motions, but it is likely to be a passing advantage as competitors release 1080p/60 fps systems themselves, Davis said.

Song downplayed the impact of Polycom's acquisition of the videoconferencing business of Hewlett-Packard, which offered Vidyo's technology through an original equipment manufacturer agreement. HP said it would exclusively resell Polycom systems. The details have not yet been worked out, Song said, but he claimed the deal would have a limited effect on the company's business, because HP represented only about 10 percent of Vidyo's revenue.

VidyoPanorama will become generally available worldwide in the fourth quarter with systems as large as nine screens. The 20-screen systems are due early next year.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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