Why the Windows PC is finally the future of the Video Conferencing industry.

 

The last 20 years in the Video Conferencing space have been dominated by specialist devices, whether behemoths like the PictureTel Concorde, the Polycom Viewstation, a Tandberg or Cisco device. The last PC based room solution of any note was the VTEL Galaxy back in the mid 1990’s and that was clobbered by PictureTel Concorde’s and then murdered by the ViewStation.

There have been very good reasons for this, all of which made sense at the time. But the world is changing, and now I believe it is the time for the renaissance of the PC in the meeting room.

Here’s why.

Security

Until now Windows operating systems have been a big bag of viruses and malware, and the idea of publically available systems in meeting rooms was just a disaster waiting to happen. Dedicated devices were virus proof partly because they were locked down, but mainly because no one seriously tried to hack them. However recent cases have proved that devices on networks can be convenient locations for bad people to store their nastyware. Examples include how malware lived on HVAC systems and Point of Sale systems for long periods before they were noticed. The whole mess recently uncovered about backdoors in room control systems are another example.

PC’s running Windows 10 are in no way intrinsically safe, but they are a known quantity to IT departments, they can be patched and the risks mitigated.

The essential premise of security has changed from obfuscation to understanding and managing the inevitable attacks. IT departments are no longer prepared to work with closed systems nor with assurances from manufacturers that it’s fine. The want to fully understand the risks.

As a result Windows 10 based devices are now less of a security risk than dedicated devices.

User experiences

Users are moving away from monolithic solutions. Companies are increasingly less likely to want to be a Polycom, Lifesize or Cisco shop, and much more likely to want to accommodate a diverse set of requirements from their user community. An organisation may decide to have a corporate standard but they will also want to  serve numerous different user scenarios. Skype for Business in one meeting, Zoom in another, Webex after that as examples.

Users want a flexible solution, and nothing is more flexible than a Windows PC.

User interfaces

The lean forward, keyboard and mouse user interface of traditional Windows systems made them clunky and mismatched for a lean back big screen environment like a conference room. Modern UI’s and kiosk software solves this sort of problem by giving the users a lean back interface, while giving the the power of a full PC when required.

Manufacturers have for years pushed the idea of intuitive user interfaces. Flashy icons, remote controls with ever less buttons, in an attempt to give users an experience that doesn’t overwhelm them. Ultimately no user interface is intuitive, and familiarity beats, easy to learn every day. With users nervous of trying something new in front of colleagues, a familiar Windows UI is the most convenient and comfortable. They can even practise before they call in their office on their own PC.

Familiarity beats, easy to learn every day.

Deployability

Over 50,000,000 meeting rooms have yet to be equipped with visual communications. The cost of installation and support for dedicated systems makes that a non starter for most businesses on a global scale. Even if the product is available globally, few businesses have the skills to support multiple sites scattered across the world.

PC’s coupled with a camera capable of coping with a meeting room are easily installed by even the most junior members of local staff, and the central IT department can patch, maintain, configure and provision these units effortlessly just as they do the hundreds or thousands of PC’s they maintain on a daily basis.

It’s far easier to deploy and maintain a Windows PC than it is some specialist technology.

Quality

PC’s today have a huge amount of compute power available and can easily cope with the demands of encoding and decoding Full High Definition images, even Ultra High Definition is possible with a modern Intel i7 and a good graphics card.

Moore’s law has increased the performance too the point where an Intel NUC has greater performance than most dedicated hardware platforms. The power of the economics of PC’s dictate that they can be refreshed faster, and at lower cost than any dedicated device.

The quality of a PC based solution, with a good quality camera is now the equal of the dedicated systems.

Camera’s

Modern USB cameras like the ConferenceCam Group by Logitech are the equal of many of the large camera’s used by the dedicated hardware solutions, particularly for huddle room environments.

Buyers

The buyers of Video Conferencing solutions have changed. Today video conferencing is part of the IT function in most client organisations. As a result the IT department is far happier with a PC based solution than some “other” type of device they are unfamiliar with. In the days of dedicated AV and IT departments installing the technology it was a positive disadvantage for the device to be a PC as this would create a turf war as to who owned and managed the asset.

Modern Buyers are IT departments who prefer PC based devices.

The Cloud

The majority of new video conferencing installations have a cloud (SaaS) based backend. Many of these contracts are either monthly based or annual contracts. IT departments have a duty to the business to not lock themselves into technologies and solutions that restrict their options later. As a result dedicated solutions that only work with a single Cloud provider are completely unacceptable for most organizations.  

PC’s give the IT department the flexibility to not be tied to a particular supplier.

Codecs

Almost every supplier of video conferencing has a Windows PC based solution. As a result clients are least likely to either be locked in or run out of options. H.264 encoding is now built into many of the modern PC processors and these are utilized by modern Software codecs.

Today the most flexible solution is a Windows PC based solution.

New ways teams work

Modern teams expect the same tools available in meeting rooms as they do at their desks. Data collaboration is simply part of the workflow for modern users and they expect a great deal more from a solution than talking heads and the ability to plug in their PC with a VGA cable.

Technology like Intel’s Unite allow wireless data sharing with PC’s and Mac’s in meeting rooms, and applications like Spark, Slack, Dropbox, Google Docs, and Office365 are all vital to modern group collaboration.

The use case for video conferencing has changed, from senior management talking about work, to mid level staff doing the work. This demands a different set of tools.

Conclusions

The dedicated device was the king of the video conferencing world for nearly 20 years, but now PC based technologies such as Intel’s NUC coupled with kiosk software and good quality, meeting room grade, USB camera’s are the future for the market.