Microsoft’s Office Roundtable video conference system – First Thoughts

Associate editor and unified communications guru Maren Bennette has reported in his Blog this week on his first impressions of the Microsoft’s Office Roundtable video conference system.

“At the beginning of August I had the first UK trade press demonstration of Microsoft’s new Office Roundtable video conferencing system, courtesy of Mark Deakin, UK Product Manager for Unified Communications, at the company’s Thames Valley Park headquarters.

Whilst I wasn’t totally blown away by the Office Roundtable system, I was very impressed. Having spent part of my time at Cisco studying the video conferencing market, which meant seeing many different VC systems from Tandberg, Polycom, Sony and others, I think I have a reasonable feel for what will sell and (perhaps more importantly) what will actually be used when it’s installed: the bane of traditional VC systems being that, once bought, they would sit in meeting rooms gathering dust.

Microsoft’s Roundtable will sell and will be used, because it is priced right (at $3000.00 or so, plus the server and client licenses) and if you know how to use Outlook, you will know how to use Roundtable. No more having to call the VC guy to set the system up!

The only obvious downside to the system, to my mind, is the display. Remote users will normally be expected to use their web-camera equipped PC to participate in the Roundtable conference, which is not a problem. But participants sat in the Roundtable system location (normally a meeting room) will have to turn their head between the camera/mike/speaker device and the display device or devices, which could be one or more lap-tops or a PC projector generated image on a screen or wall, or perhaps a monitor attached to one of the laptops. The significant loss of eye contact could be a distraction to the flow of the meeting.

Having said that, it probably won’t be long before one of the many companies that produce complementary products for the vast Microsoft market will come up with a neat solution to this problem – perhaps a circle of LCD panels around a chassis, on top of which the Roundtable will sit.

Maren’s UC Blog can be found at http://unifiedcommunicationsconsultancy.blogspot.com/