A year ago, firms didn't have much incentive to update their video-conferencing technology.
Small businesses with small budgets would opt for a Web cam instead of the low-quality conferencing setup their budgets would allow.
With the advent of high-definition TV over the past year, however, companies selling video-conferencing solutions are penetrating smaller markets for the first time.
"High-definition video communications over IP networks will be the most important growth area in communications technology over the next decade," says Craig Malloy, CEO of Austin-based LifeSize Communications, a manufacturer of high-definition video products.
500 and 1000 companies like
, all LifeSize clients, have been upgrading five-year-old low-resolution systems since high-definition became the norm, says Malloy.
Malloy feels this is an untapped market opportunity. LifeSize and the major industry players like
, with its VSX product line, and
will no doubt be reaping the benefits of this rapidly expanding market.
Video for Everyone
Like color television, high-definition television and DVD players have done in the past, video-conferencing technology is extending its reach beyond the business elite. Small and midrange businesses have up until now had less than 1% market penetration, says Malloy. But "the technology is going downstream," he adds. "There's been a big shift with high definition ... Smaller companies can afford it and larger companies are updating."
In response to this rapidly expanding industry, LifeSize today announces its high-definition LifeSize Express. At 30 frames per second and $6,000, "it's perfect for small and medium businesses and any other company that'd like to put its toe in HD water without making a big commitment to the technology," says Malloy.
Fully standards-compliant, Express can interoperate with nearly any videoconferencing system built within the last seven years. It offers the same quality audio and video as telepresence solutions like
Halo, but without Halo's initial cost of about $550,000 and monthly service fees of about $18,000.
"That's why we've spent five years developing a technology to fit into a package at this cost point," says Malloy.
Salud Family Health Centers, a nonprofit health center with 14 clinics across Colorado, implemented 11 of LifeSize's flagship Room systems around $12,000 each, which allow video calls with multiple participants, about a year ago.
"It used to take two hours to
drive to the farthest clinic," says Eric Perlinger of Salud's IT department. But with the health center's new video-conferencing capability, they recently trained a new employee remotely and Perlinger estimates they use the rooms at least every other week for meetings.
Salud was looking for a crisp image with excellent audio and simplicity of use, says Bob Dinegar of RJ Macklin Associates, a LifeSize channel partner. "LifeSize was the only high definition offering on the market," he says.
"Everyone should get one," he tells me. "It's not only for clinics. I want to work from home like this."
Perlinger says they've had to replace a camera and microphone on one unit, but issues with the system never went beyond what he calls, "typical IT issues." He sees a filtering down of video technology to more businesses.
In fact, 30% of LifeSize's clients this year were new to the video conferencing community. If lower cost and higher quality offerings from LifeSize are any indication, video conferencing could soon be a standard instead of a luxury.