Polycom unit boasts better video compression

FRAMINGHAM (10/03/2003) - Polycom Inc. next week will introduce its first videoconferencing appliance that supports a new video compression standard, which is said to cut in half the bandwidth required to provide the same quality video as the previous standard.

With H.264 built-in, the VSX 7000 entry-level system lets Polycom catch up with rival Tandberg, which offers H.264 in all its video endpoints. The previous standard, dubbed H.263, also is supported in the VSX 7000.

"When we start doing international calls (with H.264), we'll see the benefits," says Alex Nason, senior manager of business development at Johns Hopkins International, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins medical center in Baltimore. Nason says some overseas calls can cost US$12 per minute for a 384K bit/sec connection using six bonded ISDN lines. "If I can reduce (by) two lines (a $4 per minute savings), double the quality and still save money, that's a no-brainer."

Nason, who's tested the VSX 7000 for a few weeks, also likes the new user interface on the device. The interface features a streamlined main menu and reconfigured remote control, which makes it more intuitive for end users to make a call. An administrator can further simplify the interface by eliminating or adding options. One seemingly minor addition to the remote control - a "dot" button - makes it much easier to key in IP addresses, Nason says.

In a departure from its traditional appliance setup, where audio typically is delivered from the speakers on the connected TV, Polycom has added a built-in speaker and a detached subwoofer to the VSX 7000 and support for its Siren14 audio protocol. Siren14 delivers audio at 14 KHz, double the range of other audio protocols. Other features include dual-monitor emulation for simulating two monitors on one large screen and support for 11 languages. Administrators can access the Web-based management system on the device in one language, while end users see all the navigation screens in their native language.

The VSX 7000 will begin to replace Polycom's older ViewStation MP, SP and 512 lines although the company still will make and support those units, says Maggie Smith, director of product management.

The base VSX 7000 costs about $6,000, runs IP (H.323) only and comes with a 360-degree microphone, subwoofer and remote. Users can add ISDN (H.320) support via an optional hardware module for about $2,000. Multipoint support for connecting up to four end users in a conference with voice-activated presence (who's speaking is shown on screen), costs about $3,000. The Visual Concert hardware option for connecting a laptop and sharing data in a conference costs about $1,500.

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