I was recently asked to participate in a videoconference with an organization located approximately four hours from my office.
Given my modest technical acumen and the wide variety of tools available to me—including Skype, Google Talk and FaceTime—I thought that I could make this happen without any problems. I quickly learned that I was naïve in the ways of this form of communication. When my contact on the other end reached out to arrange the conference, I found out that I needed access to a sophisticated, appliance-based system or bridging service. Ultimately, to make the conference happen, I had to drive a couple of hours to a facility equipped with the required gear, thereby diminishing videoconferencing’s ability to simplify my life—and save me time and the hassle of travel.
Apparently, others have shared my frustration. Vaddio, a manufacturer and distributor of PTZ (Pan, Tilt, Zoom) cameras and control equipment, recognized the need for greater flexibility within this space and recently released its EasyUSB Tools. The primary components of this line are the ClearVIEW HD-USB PTZ camera, the EasyUSB Mixer/Amp and EasyMic MicPod. Additional integration and control are available through its AV Bridge and WEBBi controller. In this article, I focus on the use of the first three of these within a law firm environment.
EASY AS 1, 2, 3…
Thanks to Kelly Perkins at Vaddio and Scott Cizek at NewComm Technologies, I was able to participate in a live demonstration of the gear within one of our firm’s conference rooms. My first impression is that the equipment lives up to its moniker. Scott, who presented the demonstration, was able to install the equipment before we completed our introductions. (As a disclaimer, introductions typically take longer in the South). The ClearVIEW camera and EasyUSB Mixer were connected to my laptop via two of its open USB ports. Both units required a power source and were connected to a traditional power strip. The EasyMic MicPod was connected to the EasyUSB Mixer via a standard Cat 5 cable. We powered on the devices, started Skype on my laptop and initiated a video call in a matter of minutes. We were not required to load any additional drivers or software. The only requirements noted at this point were the availability of power and two USB 2.0 ports on my laptop.
For the demonstration, I initiated a video call to an out-of-town colleague using Skype. Because at this point it was just the two of us, I could have simply used my laptop’s camera and microphone to facilitate the call. However, had several additional participants joined me around the conference room table, this method would have fallen short. The field of view of my laptop’s camera is too narrow to capture a group, and its microphone was not designed to support a multiparty conversation. This is where the strengths of the EasyUSB Tools come into play. The camera’s 19x optical zoom lens can capture a 58:1 wide angle of view, wide enough to capture everyone at a standard conference table, as well as focus in on an individual at the far end of the table at a 3.2-degree angle of view. And unlike a traditional room-based system, the Vaddio camera is not chained to a particular operating system or videoconferencing client. Our demonstration would have worked equally well using Skype or other videoconferencing software on a Mac. In fact, had I been using a Mac, I could have connected with my colleague via FaceTime and his iPhone.
The EasyMic MicPod is equipped with echo-cancelling technology, digital signal processing and a 360-degree pick-up pattern. User controls, including mute and volume, are included on the face of the device. The EasyUSB Mixer/Amp is equipped with integrated audiomixer functionality, emulating a single microphone and speaker channel to the PC. The device can accommodate two MicPods, allowing for full sound capture at a long conference room table. The unit can also be connected to two external speakers for rich-sounding, full-room output.
There is nothing overly sexy or cutting edge about the look of the EasyUSB Tools. The camera is about the size of a traditional coffee can. Its base contains an infrared window that allows for camera control from the included remote commander. Remote functions include pan, tilt, zoom and preset positioning. The unit’s robotics are fairly smooth and quiet. The mixer/amp is comparable to the size of a cigar box. The unit features very few controls, which speaks to the simplicity of the overall system. The sleekest piece of the system is the MicPod. The unit is about the size of a cup saucer, much smaller and less obtrusive than most desktop microphones I’ve seen or used.
From a collective size standpoint, the system offers the potential of portability. This flexibility could come in handy if a firm needs to set up a temporary location. As with any piece of sophisticated hardware, you would want to transport the camera and gear in an appropriate case, such as those made by Pelican.
BEYOND THE CONFERENCE ROOM
The ClearVIEW HD-USB camera is built to go beyond the conference room environment. The unit supports H.264 videostreaming and has a built-in Ethernet network interface, allowing for streaming directly from the camera and Web-based control of the device. Vaddio has had a strong presence in this space, providing broadcast-quality equipment for classrooms, auditoriums and houses of worship. With the introduction of the ClearVIEW HD-USB camera, law firms can leverage Vaddio’s experience and the simplicity of the EasyUSB Tools system in the areas of Web-based training and other forms of content streaming.
The cost of the EasyUSB Tools system is another very attractive attribute. It’s easy to spend well north of $10,000 on a traditional appliance-based videoconferencing system. The Vaddio system is available for approximately $5,000. If installed on an A/V cart, a firm can have the availability of high-quality videoconferencing in all of its conference rooms. With the system’s nearly unlimited compatibility, the choice of videoconferencing clients and collaboration tools is wide open. Combined with relatively low-cost subscription services, such as Skype Business and GoToMeeting, the Vaddio system can connect a law firm to its regional offices, traveling attorneys, remote workers, and most importantly, its clients.
The possibility does exist that a firm using the Vaddio system will find itself in the same predicament I described at the beginning of this article, that is, trying to communicate with an appliance-based system on the other end of a videoconference and being forced to use a bridging service in order to facilitate a call. By adding such a service as that offered by BlueJeans, a firm can choose from a broad range of communication and collaboration tools while at the same time maintaining connectivity to organizations using traditional systems.
If a firm wants to add high-quality videoconferencing to its organization, the Vaddio EasyUSB Tools system will deliver broad compatibility, flexibility in application and ease of implementation—all at a very affordable price point. In the time that it takes to make a traditional Southern introduction, the system can be set up and fully functional. To learn more about system capabilities and technical specifications, visit vaddioeasyusb.com.