Polycom expands videoconferencing product line

Polycom Inc. Monday will expand its line of videoconferencing technology with the addition of several new products, including rack-mounted hardware for use in high-end settings such as conference rooms.

In addition to the new VSX 8000 device, Pleasanton, Calif.-based Polycom is expected to announce updated software that supports stereo audio for its conference room videoconferencing applications. The VSX 7.0 software also supports the Session Initiation Protocol for group videoconferencing and integration between phone and video systems to allow simple dialing to set up videoconferencing calls, Polycom officials said.

Entergy Corp. in New Orleans has already tested the VSX 8000 in a lab and plans to deploy it if funding becomes available, said Dave Horn, conferencing services manager at the power utility. Entergy has 72 videoconferencing systems throughout its business locations in the South-central and Northeast states, several of which could use conference room integration, he said.

Horn noted that the VSX 8000 will support a variety of interfaces such as IP-only, Serial and ISDN. “All the ports in the back (of the device) matter,” he said.

He also said the new support for stereo audio will make it easier for users to listen in on a group videoconferencing meeting, since stereo will make it easier to keep track of off-screen participants.

At Entergy, videoconferencing usage spiked when travel was reduced after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But usage leveled off last year as the company reduced its size and major projects reached completion, Horn said. He estimated that about 60 percent of the 13,000 workers at Entergy use some form of videoconferencing, with 20 to 30 different videoconferences conducted each week.

Despite the cost savings that videoconferencing can produce, some Entergy executives still prefer traveling “because they like the touchy-feeling thing,” Horn said. That means the purchase of new videoconferencing equipment isn’t assured.

Andrew Davis, an analyst at Wainhouse Research in Brookline, Mass., said the VSX 8000 is a “dream product for systems integrators” because of the many port connections it includes. More significant, he said, is that the VSX 8000 and several related low-end and midrange products all use a single-chip design, which gives a large customer or Polycom the ability to develop software for a variety of hardware platforms.

Overall, Polycom is the largest vendor of group videoconferencing products, accounting for about half of the units sold in the market in 2003, Davis said. It’s followed by Tandberg AS with 21 percent of the units sold and Sony Corp. with eight per cent, he said.

Global revenues for group videoconferencing products fell to US$518 million in 2003, down from about US$541 million in 2002, but unit shipments rose last year to about 90,000, up from 80,000 in 2002, he said.

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