Will MacDonald, CTO StarLeaf, highlights the key points to consider when comparing Google Chromebox for Meetings to the StarLeaf cloud video conferencing meeting room systems - the GT Mini range.
Google has just announced Chromebox for Meetings, and at $999 it is a low cost video conferencing room system that is designed for use with Google Hangouts. StarLeaf welcomes this move by Google, as it unquestionably validates many qualities of the StarLeaf cloud video conferencing and calling solution. In this article we look at the main aspects of the Google announcement and compare them to the equivalent features of the StarLeaf GT Mini product line.
Making video conferencing ubiquitous and accessible to all has always been StarLeaf's goal. With the introduction of Chromebox for Meetings, Google clearly mirrors this ambition. However, this is not the first ultra low cost room system to enter the market. And it suggests that there might be a race to the bottom? After all, this isn't the first product to enter at such a rock bottom price. There are a number of other very low cost room systems available, from companies like Tely Labs and Biscotti, which have historically used Skype for the infrastructure. Conversely, the Google Chromebox for Meetings uses Hangouts, which is based on third party infrastructure from Vidyo. StarLeaf, on the other hand, does not rely upon any third party infrastructure, and has a range of professional meeting room systems that allow users to match budget with desired functionality.
The Google product is a dedicated appliance for permanent installation in a meeting room. On close examination, the Google product will work effectively in very small rooms, and its equivalent StarLeaf product is the GT Mini option 1, which has a list price of $1,995. However, in terms of ease-of-use the StarLeaf GT Mini stands head and shoulders above the Google product, which is operated by an old style infrared remote control. The StarLeaf solution, on the other hand, comes with an intuitive touchscreen interface that makes video conferencing as easy-to-use as a smartphone.
There's no doubt that simple plug and play installation of a meeting room system is essential, Google touts this as one of the advantages of its system. While it is hard to dispute this claim, I would be astounded if it comes close to matching a StarLeaf meeting room installation! With our solution, the installer automatically receives a 12-digit 'Quick Connect' code, which is simply entered into the StarLeaf touchscreen. Thereafter the StarLeaf system is automatically populated with directories and the user is ready to make a call. On the flip side, the Google product requires both pre authorized user name and password before configuration can begin. We've made deployment a very easy and non-technical process that requires no IT intervention or specialist skills.
In many meeting rooms it is necessary to install professional audio. A line-in and line-out interface is required when connecting to an external amplifier and echo canceler. These systems often have a ceiling mounted speaker, or wireless microphones. The professional microphone standard is XLR. By ignoring these interfaces, Chromebox for Meetings may not be fit for purpose and will not get used in higher end or large meeting rooms.
The True Cost of Interoperability
Interoperability with the existing installed base of video conferencing H.323 and SIP devices, is essential. This is where Google falls down, specifically because it relies upon a third party, in this case Vidyo, to provide a gateway to transcode between the two technologies. As this is not standard, and by no means offered as an 'out of the box' capability, it is likely to cause both frustration and confusion for end users. Also Google's approach makes interoperability more expensive than first expected, somewhat clumsy, and raises the thorny issue of support. None of which can be said of the StarLeaf solution. Consequently, this new meeting room system actually has limited potential and will probably stay confined to addressing the very low-end small business sector where there is little or no need for B2B video communications.The video conferencing world needs to move away from sticky silo based architectures, adopted by Apple, Microsoft and Google, to one of seamless interoperability. Such silos create islands of communication and only work if everyone is on the same system. At StarLeaf we consider interoperability to be very important, with our solution SIP and H.323 calls can be made directly using the touch panel of any of our devices, and all users have a video URI that can be dialed by a SIP or H.323 device, which can access the Internet. There is no additional equipment or setup required.
One Press Meeting
Google is keen to point out that scheduled meetings can be joined by pressing a single key on the remote, at StarLeaf we have a similar feature with a single button on the touchscreen, which users press to join a meeting. However, with StarLeaf the button lists the next conference today and turns green as the meeting time approaches. Thereafter, the StarLeaf button starts flashing to alert the user that the conference has begun.
The large video screen in most meeting rooms is wasted when there is no meeting going on. At StarLeaf we use this screen to keep people abreast of upcoming events by clearly displaying the schedule of meetings planned for the day. To give more clarity we also display the name of the conference room. This functionality appears to be similar to the on screen display feature, announced by Google.
Google has announced that there will be an annual charge to access the Google infrastructure for its device. This can be compared to the connection license fee that StarLeaf applies to all of its video endpoints. However, at StarLeaf we offer greater flexibility by offering users the option to buy a lifetime connection, which eliminates the need for users to remember to renew in future years.
The Google product does not allow for a nicely integrated room experience. For example, many customers want speakers and microphones installed, alongside which, they often require a touch panel to control the whole meeting environment. In our experience users simply do not want to deal with a number of remote controls for the endpoint and TVs. The StarLeaf GT Mini has an API, to be used by room based control systems such as Crestron, Control 4 or AMX, in this way the customer can be delivered a completely integrated environment that offers a great experience to the end user.
Range of Products
Google has a great product for the small huddle room and addresses the need for a mobile client with Hangouts. It is however missing the rest of the range. For example, a multiple screen system, an HDMI based camera input for PTZ cameras, and most importantly, a means of desktop content sharing via HDMI or VGA into the device.
The Chromebox for Meetings is an interesting product, which will certainly help drive adoption of video conferencing around the globe. We look forward to customers coming forward and demanding this sort of functionality from their vendors. This functionality and more, is available from StarLeaf today. Users who like what they see in the Google Chromebox for Meetings, but would like it to be even easier to use, or who need interoperability, will find the StarLeaf GT Mini very compelling indeed.