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Cisco Spark Board, Polycom camera refocus on video conference rooms

Unified communications veterans Cisco and Polycom both launched hardware devices this year geared toward video conference rooms. Both vendors tout "the experience" of their products, meaning a smooth, easy-to-use, end-user experience. Marketing shtick aside, the focus on the end-user experience does have merit in the user-centric world of unified communications.

Both vendors are also looking to tap into an untapped market of small and medium-sized video conference rooms. About 30 million to 40 million huddle rooms span the globe, and less than 2% are video-enabled, according to market research firm Frost & Sullivan, based in San Antonio.

Cisco's Spark Board is a touch-enabled team collaboration device that combines wireless presentation, file sharing, digital whiteboarding and video calling. Remote users can also annotate images from their laptops, and the markups will appear on the Spark Board. The hunk of hardware is tightly linked to Cisco Spark software.

[Cisco Spark Board is] one of the sexier types of products. It's the biggest iPad I've ever seen.
David Steinprincipal at Stein Technology Consulting Group

The Cisco Spark Board, launched in January, follows in the footsteps of other similar products, including Microsoft's Surface Hub, InFocus' Mondopad and Prysm's immersive collaboration system. Despite the similarities, the Cisco Spark Board has helped move the needle, said David Stein, a UC analyst and principal at Stein Technology Consulting Group, a consulting firm in Westminster, Calif.

"I think it did move the market forward," Stein said, "and it's one of the sexier types of products. It's the biggest iPad I've ever seen."

Specifically, Stein cited the board's ease of use and ultrasonic technology that detects users as they enter video conference rooms. Users can also move meetings from their smartphones to the board. Also, when users draw a line on the board, that markup is encrypted before it's sent to the cloud.

Video conference rooms evolving

Polycom, for its part, launched the EagleEye Director II, an in-room smart camera with active-speaker technology, picture-in-picture room display and data analytics. The camera tracks people speaking and automatically focuses on them. The analytics provide ROI insights into video conference rooms by tracking the number of people in the meeting and call records.

Rather than innovative, Stein labeled the EagleEye Director II as evolutionary. "It's a very good incremental improvement," he said of the camera. "I actually thought it was pretty interesting."

Cisco, Polycom and four other vendors were Best of Enterprise Connect finalists last month at the UC conference in Orlando, Fla. The award finalists usually reflect UC trends, innovation and evolution. The Spark Board won the show's top award. Stein was a Best of Enterprise Connect judge.

In the video above, check out demos of the Cisco Spark Board and EagleEye Director II. 

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