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Collaboration: a solution for every customer?

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Throwing an iPhone in just about any direction at ISE 2017 would have almost certainly hit a ‘collaboration solution’. If there was ever a technology where one size definitely doesn’t fit all, collaboration is it, but such was the variety of solutions on view, something to fit any project was almost certainly available somewhere in the 14 halls of the show. Here is a look at some of the options.

Our news report from Futuresource, earlier in this issue, reveals that 1 million IFPDs were sold in 2016 globally, a 14% increase. IFPDs have become the collaboration technology of choice in both the education and corporate markets. Sales growth in this category has been rapid, with a CAGR of 59% from 2013 to 2016. This growth is forecast to continue, with a potential market of 32 million corporate meeting rooms globally, and less than one million displays installed to date.

The entrance to the market of global IT giants, Microsoft, Google and Cisco is changing the industry dynamic. These providers are leveraging their existing infrastructure and collaboration environments. The new entrants are promoting simple ‘all-in-one’ meeting room solutions. They can easily create, using touch-interactivity, and share content amongst attendees (both remotely and in-room) and call via voice or video. Embedded cameras, speakers and sophisticated microphones promote a high-quality interaction as well as easy set-up and continuous workflow. These displays often have innovative features such as automatic switch-on when someone approaches or one-touch switch-on.

User adoption

This year’s AV News Awards Keynote Address by Nancy Knowlton (elsewhere in this issue) focused on the importance of matching collaboration solutions to the needs of the customer, and the ‘process’ nature of collaborative working. In this respect, it is hard to argue against solutions built around familiar interfaces, software environments and protocols that encourage user adoption and reduce the training overhead.

The extraordinary success of Microsoft’s award-winning Surface Hub is the most obvious example, with the barrier to adoption being price. At ISE, Maverick introduced an initiative to move an investment from Capex to Opex, effectively dealing with the initial budget hit. Microsoft Surface Hub ‘As A Service’ is a new purchasing model that will futureproof meeting room environments, making collaboration solutions available as “semi-permanent investments”.

Designed to make products quickly accessible, without long purchasing cycles and provide a cost-effective investment model that meets the needs of individual users. Jon Sidwick, VP of Maverick Europe explained: “Many companies offer various forms of leasing; our process is far more sophisticated and accessible. ‘Surface Hub As A Service’ will enable resellers to access a subscription model then only have the Hub in place for as long as they need. When a next generation model becomes available, they can simply switch without any large upfront costs”.

Rivals

Collaboration is a technology that none of the major technology can afford to ignore. Google’s Jamboard is being hawked around under wraps by BenQ, and until it is officially launched, it’s hard to make an assessment of its likely market impact. What we know is that Jamboard offers a 55-inch 4K display, with a built-in camera, loudspeakers and wi-fi.

As Surface Hub is to Microsoft software tools, Jamboard uses a lot of existing Google technology to facilitate collaboration – including Google Drive, Gmail and Hangouts. These are enhanced with some whiteboarding features specific to Jamboard, including sticky notes, stencils and handwriting / shape recognition. Jamboard is designed to enable cloud-based collaboration between remote users across all of Google’s G Suite apps, as well as the Chrome browser and Google Maps. Jamboard is built on the Android 6.0 Marshmallow operating system. In addition to collaboration with other Jamboards, smartphone and tablet apps allow remote working.

Google has confirmed that the Jamboard apps will be available for iOS, Android and Chrome OS, but, significantly, no Microsoft companion app for Jamboard. Users are compelled to decide whether they want to commit to the Microsoft or the Google environment.

A brighter Spark

While Jamboard is said to be all about “making work fun”, Cisco’s Spark Board is unashamedly about efficiency, order and security. “We created the Cisco Spark Board to clean up the conference-room chaos and connect physical rooms to the virtual spaces where so much work gets done.”

The Cisco Spark Board is a cloud-powered, all-in-one collaboration device. It is a wireless presentation device with one click content sharing. As you approach, the Spark Board will recognise and greet you with no Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or network connection required. You control it all from your PC, Mac, tablet or mobile phone.

The whiteboarding function can be shared with anyone holding the Cisco Spark app. It automatically saves your work to a space that the whole team shares, albeit with cryptographic security. Spark Board is said to give users theatre-quality audio and video, with its 4K camera, microphone array and VoiceTrack technology to ensure clear communication.

Cisco’s software designers have taken onboard the point that collaboration is a process. “A meeting itself is one point in a longer series of interactions. We need a great experience that supports this whole flow.” To achieve this, Cisco has introduced Spark Meetings. By adding some of the meeting capabilities from Cisco WebEx, the technology extends the meeting to include the time before and after.

Couple this with the ability to deposit files of shared content in a particular Spark Room, for access by approved meeting attendees, and you start to get the feeling that someone has thought properly about the ways that people actually work.

Alternative hardware

But, of course, your customers don’t have to buy their hardware from the developers of their preferred software environment. Interactive technology specialists Avocor, for example, chose ISE to show the newest addition to the company’s product portfolio, the X series (shipping later this year).

Powered by a Windows 10 operating system, the X series enables users to access familiar applications and content straight from the panel. The 75” X series display features InGlass touch technology, now supports 20 simultaneous touch points. The display ships with two Avocor Active Pens, allowing two users to write simultaneously within a range of applications.

microsoft surface hubcmykMicrosoft Surface Hub: now available from Maverick “As A Service”.

 

The X series features a connect and collaborate bar, allowing users to easily connect third party devices to the display, so customising the solution. Built to unify in-room and remote collaboration experiences to provide a single visual interactive platform, transforming ‘business-as-usual’ into inspired teamwork.

Avocor’s initial market entry with its F series was made vis the education sector, but the company made no secret of its corporate ambitions. Other education buyers’ favourites, Clevertouch and C-Touch, also staked their claims to the business market at ISE 2017.

Making the move to corporates

Clevertouch launched a new 65” Capacitive Touch Display at ISE, as well as updating the Corporate Clevertouch Pro Series. All models in the series come with LUX, described as an intuitive user interface with “super-fast Android.”

The Clevertouch approach is to design its large interactive displays as OS agnostic, and so all the products and software in the Clevertouch Lux series will connect with the Chrome, Windows, iOS, Android platforms. Matched to the needs of the corporate market the Clevertouch Pro Series has MDM controls (Mobile Device Management) that makes life easier for IT Managers.  Dual platform functionality lets users switch seamlessly between PC and Android mode, streamlining the way in which they access content and apps.

With the launch of its Laser Air IFPD last year, C-Touch was also able to offer business users a choice of software environment – Windows, iOS and Android – plus the option of an OPS module and Easy Air PC modules for those who need them.

New contenders

While vendors with a pedigree in education, IFPDs designed specifically for corporate use have a number of different priorities. NEC Display Solutions is a natural choice of supplier for many corporate buyers, and the company stepped up to the plate in the collaboration game with the launch of InfinityBoard at ISE

This is described as a “versatile display solution designed to fulfil business demands for powerful and interactive workspaces and huddle rooms”. Suitable for video conferencing, creative brainstorming, presenting, reviewing and collaborating, the InfinityBoard provides a modular and flexible platform to enhance efficiency and productivity in meetings.

Based on ultra-high definition (UHD) 65” and 84” large format displays, with InGlass touch technology, the InfinityBoard solution provides a seamless, paper-like touch performance using a passive precision pen. This allows users to be creative with finger and pen differentiation. With pixel-free UHD visualisation, the solution is said to offer best-in-class visual performance.

The large surface allows users to create, annotate and present on an infinite canvas with the ability to import and export content thanks to the supplied whiteboard application. Using a new collaboration software, the InfinityBoard supports wireless presentation, screen to device and screen to screen interaction. Using NEC’s MultiPresenter functionality, the solution also supports BYOD.

The InfinityBoard is completed with a high-res Huddly camera with 120 degree viewing angle, high-end loudspeakers by SEAS and an optional audio microphone conferencing solution from Sennheiser. Furthermore, a modular open pluggable specification (OPS) Slot-in PC with the Windows 10 operating system.

Technology integration

Like NEC, Vivitek has integrated its existing wireless collaboration technology into a flat screen display to create a new range of NovoTouch IFPDs, in four screen sizes that range from 65” up to 98”. The new IFPD s are available in Ultra HD 4K, further complemented by LED backlit technology.

An anti-glare surface further improves screen visibility in high ambient light environments and the new screens provide 4 mm of toughened glass for added protection. With 20-point touch capabilities (10 writing), the range is easy-to-use with common gesture interactivity.

NovoConnect technology allows for up to 64 users to connect wirelessly, and to display up to 4 screens simultaneously on the large format display. With on-screen annotation, mark up and wireless file sharing, NovoTouch is a complete collaborative solution. For guest connectivity, the convenient LauncherPlus can be added to make a direct Wi-Fi connection to stream laptop content hassle-free to the big screen.

Systems integration

Finally, i3 Technologies has introduced a range of collaborative technologies to suit the systems designer or integrator. The latest, i3SYNC Touch, allows users to share displays and touch input in Full HD. This means you can share images, files, presentations, videos and much more. in high quality, on a large screen.

The wireless tool is equipped with a touch functionality that makes the big screen interactive during screen sharing. This means users can interact directly with what’s displayed on the big screen – for example, browsing through the slides of a presentation without using an external remote.

Additionally, there is an option to switch from one screen to another with the push of a button. i3SYNC Touch is compatible with any HDMI device, including desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones and cameras. It is also OS agnostic, and allows up to 254 users to share their screen – with no need to struggle with cables or re-adjusting resolutions.

No technical expertise is said to be required – it is purely a matter of linking transmitters and receivers.

i3SYNC Touch is the latest in a series or related products, including i3HUDDLE, i3NOTES and an optional button giving easy access to i3MEETINGHUB, Skype, Excel, PowerPoint and web browsing. In effect, if none of the off-the-shelf solutions suit your purpose, you could consider designing a custom solution using i3 products.

Google Jamboard

 

Jamboard apps will be available for iOS, Android and Chrome OS, but, significantly, no Microsoft companion app.

Centrepiece collaboration solutions

For prestige boardroom and other showpiece solutions, collaboration technology assumes enhanced decision support capabilities. Following on the heels of a $65 million October investment to accelerate product development, Oblong’s former COO, and recently appointed VP EMEA, Mary Ann de Lares Norris, used ISE to introduce the company’s roadmap.

Product innovations include:

• Mezzanine for collaborative teams in smaller spaces: While Mezzanine’s immersive, spatial operating environments are the centrepiece technology in executive briefing centres, command centres and conference spaces, the collaborative properties of Mezzanine that are said to make it ideal for ‘team ideation’. Coming to market in Q2 is a dual screen immersive environment with simplified installation.

• Signature wand capabilities: New in 2017 is the launch of a next generation tracking system for the spatial wand, Oblong’s proprietary hand-held device for controlling content from any location in a room.

MultiTaction has a equally impressive look-and-feel and new multi-site capabilities that supports remote collaboration with no discernible lag. The  new real-time collaboration software, MT Canvus-Connect, enables multiple sources to run in parallel.

Pete Malcolm, Chief Executive Officer at MultiTaction said, “Once our corporate clients started to implement MT Canvus, they immediately started asking us for a solution that would allow them to link locations together.  MT Canvus-Connect delivers on the promise I made to our customers.”

MT Canvus-Connect extends this functionality by providing a platform that enables multiple remote locations to collaborate in real-time. Unlike other collaboration systems that attempt to channel live video feeds across a network, the MultiTaction solution only ships touch or move data which means that the interaction is practically in real-time. 


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