8 lesser-known videoconferencing options for work

If some of your workers are too far away to join you in your huddle room, here are eight options to help them feel they're really there.

0 video conferencing
Peter Sayer/IDG

8 lesser-known videoconferencing options for work

Services like Microsoft’s Skype for Business or Google Hangouts mean you no longer need to turn to a specialist conferencing provider to collaborate with distant colleagues “face to face.”

To get the best out of those services, or equivalents from dedicated conferencing providers, it does help to have some specialist equipment, though – especially if you want remote participants to have an all-around view of the conference table in home office.

We’ve taken a 360-degree look at some of the available options. Here are our favorites.

1 meeting owl
Owl Labs

Owl Labs - Meeting Owl

With one of these creatures in the middle of the conference-room table, remote workers will be able to look whoever’s speaking straight in the eye. Meeting Owl doesn’t need to turn its ahead to achieve this feat: A special lens gives the camera a 360-degree field of view, and eight microphones allow Meeting Owl to locate speakers up to 2 meters away. Its built-in software will zoom in on the person speaking in the video feed, and highlight up to three recent speakers in the room.  The device just needs power supply and a free USB port on a PC or laptop running Google Hangouts, Skype for Business, Slack, GoToMeeting, Zoom or BlueJeans to operate.

V.360
VSN Mobil

VSN Mobil - V.360

Originally developed as an action camera, the v.360 is as at home on the front of a surf board as it is in the middle of a boardroom table. Sitting on its adjustable tripod, it can be connected directly via USB to a meeting room computer running Skype, Apple FaceTime, or Google Hangouts, among other software. It uses a reflector rather than a lens to generate a 6480x1080 panoramic image from its camera. If you need to conduct outdoor meetings, the v.360’s action heritage could come in handy: It’s IP67-rated, meaning it can survive immersion to a depth of 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. A little rain? No problem!

Polycom CX5100

Polycom - CX5100 and CX5500

Polycom’s CX5100 is a 360-degree camera and conferencing bridge. It requires a USB connection to a PC but, for a little more money, you can have the stand-alone CX5500 with otherwise similar features. Optimized for Microsoft’s Skype for Business, it is also compatible with the older Lync software and SIP PBXs. It offers active speaker detection, with a microphone range of up to 6 meters.  

4 huddly

Google - Hangouts Meet hardware with Huddly camera

When Google upgraded its Hangouts conferencing app to an enterprise version, Hangouts Meet, it decided it needed some dedicated hardware to go with it. There are four components: a touchscreen controller, a speakermic designed by Google, an ASUS Chromebox running Google’s ChromeOS, and a camera. Several speakermics can be daisychained to cover long conference tables, while the camera’s built-in software helps it detect meeting participants, cropping and zooming the image to fit them in the frame. The hardware is available from Google as a kit, but the camera, developed by Norwegian firm Huddly, is also available separately. It has a 16 megapixel sensor with a 150-degree field of view, and connects to computers via a USB 3 port.

It isn’t just for Google Hangouts: It also works with Skype, Slack, BlueJean, JoinMe, Zoom, Starleaf, IBM Connections and Appear.in.

Logitech ConferenceCam Connect
Logitech

Logitech - ConferenceCam Connect

Logitech’s ConferenceCam Connect is a portable conferencing camera with a Bluetooth speakerphone: You can leave it in the meeting room, or take it with you. It has a 90-degree field of view with pan-and-tilt and 4x zoom, making it suitable for up to six people. It connects via USB to PCs, Macs or Chromebooks, and works with conferencing applications including Skype for Business, WebEx, Fuze, Zoom, BlueJeans, Vidyo and Broadsoft, among others.

Logitech also recently released an upgraded version, the ConferenceCam MeetUp, with a 120-degree field of view.

6 panacast
Altia Systems

Altia Systems - PanaCast 2

Altia Systems has upgraded its Panacast 2 camera, with the latest incorporating intelligent zoom. Where other vendors tout their ability to zoom on the current speaker, Altia’s automatically zooms out until it can bring all the meeting participants into view. That, the company says, means you’re never left wondering who just finished speaking: You can still see them.

The 4K, panoramic USB camera works with Skype and Skype for Business, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, BlueJeans, Vidyo, Fuze and Zoom and needs no additional drivers. It’s actually three cameras positioned to give a 180-degree field of view, not one, and includes hardware to stitch the images together on the fly.

7 huddlecamhd go
Michael Luttermoser/HuddleCamHD

HuddleCamHD - GO

The HuddleCamHD GO is more portable than the company’s other conferencing cameras. It stands about 235 mm tall, and is square in section, slim enough to fit in a corner of your backpack or laptop bag. Plugged into a PC, Mac or Chromebook via a USB 2 port, the GO offers 1080p video with a 110-degree field of view and what the company describes as a “360-degree speakerphone” with a range of up to 3 meters. It draws its power from the USB port over a 1.5m cable: a 1.8m extension is also supplied to get it to the middle of larger meeting tables.

8 room kit
Cisco Systems

Cisco Systems - Spark Room Kit and Room Kit Plus

The Cisco Spark Room Kit sits atop a flat-screen display and contains a camera, codec, speakers, and microphones suitable for meeting rooms holding up to seven people. It’s designed to communicate with other Cisco Spark systems. The camera can zoom out to accommodate everyone in the room, or zoom in automatically on the speaker. It might even tell you when you need to move to larger premises: It delivers analytics including the number of people in the room at each meeting. There’s also a “Plus” version with four built-in cameras, that can cope with meetings of up to 14 people.