HP gets deeper into videoconferencing

The first fruits of Hewlett-Packard Co.’s partnership with videoconferencing equipment maker Vidyo Inc. are ready to be plucked.

HP has released Vidyo-based desktop and conference room solutions, backed by a gateway and router, to broaden its videoconferencing offerings beyond its hosted Halo product.

“We’re looking to make an aggressive move” into videoconferencing, said Marcio Macedo, HP’s director of product management for visual collaboration solutions.

Although HP is behind Cisco Systems Inc. and Polycom Inc. in releasing endpoint and server products, the company believes that by leveraging Vidyo’s lead in H.264 scalable video coding (SVC) compression it has a compelling answer.

The new network products include the HP Visual Collaboration Router, which provides video streams to up to 100 endpoints. It can also bridge calls; a stackable Visual Collaboration Gateway, which lets companies link legacy H.264 and SIP-based videoconferencing solutions; and a Visual Collaboration Portal, which lets IT administrators remotely configure and authenticate users. All three are built on ProLiant DL360 servers.

The new endpoints include the HP Visual Collaboration Desktop software client for PCs and laptops; the Visual Collaboration Executive Desktop, a package that includes a  23-inch HP TouchSmart 600 Quad monitor, camera and collaboration software; and the Visual Collaboration Room 100 and Room 220 packages for conference rooms.

“This gives them a good first step,” into on premise videoconferencing systems, said Irwin Lazar, vice-president of communications and collaboration research at Nemertes Research.

After Cisco Systems Inc. swallowed mid-range videoconferencing manufacturer Tandberg SA earlier this year, the enterprise VC market is dominated by Cisco and Polycom Inc., he said. HP’s new products give enterprises another large competitor to look at, he said.

In addition to these three, other videoconferencing makers include Logitech’s LifeSize division, Radvision and Ottawa’s Magor Communications Corp.

HP has been trying for some time to be a desktop to network provider of technology to corporations. Is it late to the game in videoconferencing systems?

No, says Lazar, although he admits they’re just “tipping their toes in the water” at this point. HP could go farther with improved videoconferencing management tools, he said.

However, he added, HP seems to have a lead with SVC, which other vendors are only just getting into.

SVC is “pretty compelling technology for companies that would like to deliver High Definition video across the public Internet and wireless networks,” he said.

HP’s Macedo also denied the company is too late to eat into competitors sales. “Our customers tell us it isn’t,” he said. “They want us to provide solutions to them.”

SVC is the difference, he said. Traditional video compression squeezes the signal into a single media stream, which includes the frame rate and sets the quality an end user will see. SVC breaks signals into layers of different quality so an end user with a desktop monitor gets as good an image as someone with a large screen. There is no need for a multipoint control unit (MCU) that other solutions need.

“The cost of a videocollaboration router is a fraction of an MCU,” he said, “and is very robust.”

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