Logitech takes on the big boys in videoconferencing hardware

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While the world is completely fixated on software, Logitech quietly takes advantage of the fact that people still need hardware.

Logitech is today taking a stab at some big videoconferencing equipment manufacturers and reminding us that, despite the world being fixated on the "software-ization" of everything, hardware still has a place. The company is introducing Logitech Group, a new videoconferencing solution for midsize to large conference rooms. It's a very lucrative space predominantly serviced by large vendors' products. And products with huge price tags, to boot.

Which is where Logitech wants to mix things up. The product, which is expected to be available worldwide next month, is slated to start at a suggested price of $999. Group offers audio and HD video for groups of up to 14 people. In addition, the extension microphones allow groups of 20 to be heard.

I went into a briefing about Group with some preconceptions. I wondered how Logitech, a hardware-only vendor that is integrated with third-party software solutions, could compete with the user experience of a coupled hardware + software solution. I put this question to Scott Wharton, general manager of the video collaboration group within Logitech.

(As an aside, we were doing the briefing remotely, using Group hardware with the Zoom videoconferencing service. I have to report that call quality was exemplary -- whether this is attributable to Zoom, to Logitech or to both I couldn't say.)

Anyway, Wharton pointed out that Logitech has done a lot of integration work to ensure that Group is tailored to work across a host of videoconferencing solutions: It's optimized for Microsoft Lync, certified for Skype for Business and compatible with Cisco Jabber and WebEx, among others. I'm not sure what the difference is between optimized, certified and compatible, but my experience was that, notwithstanding the use of a third-party platform, Group performed excellently.

Group deploys quickly, via a USB connection, and is the successor to Logitech's previous ConferenceCam CC3000e. Group has a full-duplex speakerphone that is built within a sturdy metal case, which also improves acoustics. For microphone geeks out there, Group has four omnidirectional microphones, backed up with acoustic echo and noise-canceling tech. The microphone has a 20-foot range -- 28 feet with the optional expansion microphone.

In terms of video, Group has 1080p to offer full HD video. It comes with a 90-degree field of view and a remote control to manage the pan, tilt and zoom functionality. A nice addition is on-board H.264 to process video within the camera and thus free up bandwidth (it is possible that this is the reason my call, on my sadly lacking home DSL connection, was so good).

Hardware gets a pretty rough ride in the technology industry. We all like to ignore it and focus instead on the exciting world of software. Despite all this, hardware is important, and with Group, Logitech looks to cause lots of pain to some legacy vendors.

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