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The Cisco TelePresence SX Series – adding TelePresence to every screen

We have a little problem at Cisco: not enough TelePresence. This may sound strange since Cisco IT has installed over 1600 TelePresence endpoints already, which gives us about one TelePresence unit for every 50 employees. Utilization of these units is still greater than 60% worldwide (and some are in private offices or homes, which drives up utilization in the shared units). This means that it’s hard to find an available TelePresence room near you when you need it. 

Most of these TelePresence units are in specially-designed rooms and built right into the rooms, which makes them pretty pricey; and after 1600 units, Cisco departments are buying fewer. But that’s not stopping demand as employee video demand continues to increase. Video is quickly becoming the new audio at Cisco. Even though we need more TelePresence, we couldn’t really afford more – until today.

The SX and C Series and MX Series have now been released, and after testing and review, Cisco IT is starting to deploy them in locations around the world. We already have a lot of standalone video screens deployed in our buildings – mostly in meeting rooms, for sharing presentations during meetings. The new SX series and C series equipment is a low-cost way of turning these screens into full, low cost, HD TelePresence. These endpoints work with existing video screens to deliver a good video TelePresence experience.

The SX Series at a Glance

The SX and C Series of TelePresence endpoints can transform any room with a good video screen into a conference room by adding 2-3 pieces of plug-and-play equipment. That’s not only cool, it makes business sense for a lot of Cisco departments. The SX Series (see below) ranges from the SX10, for teleworkers to the SX20, for mid-sized conference rooms, to the SX80, for larger meeting rooms. The SX10 is portable, so Cisco and partner sales reps can carry the endpoint in their bags when they visit clients; in fact, anyone can host meetings anywhere by carrying an SX10 or SX20 from office to office. We’re also deploying the larger SX80 in larger conference rooms, where we can connect multiple presentation monitors, multiple microphones, and multiple PC inputs.

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The TelePresence SX20’s are not as portable (although, they’ll do); they have quick-fit units meant for various-sized conference rooms. The camera is a flexible unit with 4X optical zoom capabilities and we’ve been able to connect the camera to just about any surface, like wall-mounts or a stand or even on television monitors.

Using the Speaker Track 60 brings an extra benefit that we hadn’t seen before: no more people speaking from off-screen. One description:
“As a member of the Advanced Cisco Experience team, I get to test all our technology and I have to say, the Speaker Track 60 is truly one of the best solutions,” explains Terell Johnson, IT analyst, Global Infrastructure Services. “Often in TelePresence meetings, we tend to overlook the ability to see someone when they’re speaking if we cannot see them. The quick fix is to interrupt the speaker to ask them to move into range of a camera or start fiddling with the remote to change the camera angle. That is an example of where technology interferes with the overall experience.”

The Speaker Track 60 is equipped with two cameras and the cameras track whomever is speaking, focusses on that speaker for a clear image, and then switches to that person. When another speaker chimes in, the second camera tracks to them so that when the first speaker finishes, the camera then shows the second speaker. The result is a lot like having a professional camera crew (well, one with two separate and moving studio cameras) tracking all the speakers and always switching to the active speaker at the right time, which gives it a professional studio feel.

With loads of features, including tabletop microphones, remote control for a pan/tilt/zoom camera, and TelePresence Touch, the SX Series make use of our existing video screens for a really cost efficient alternative to some of our current TelePresence units, and these devices are part of our single video architecture. They use SIP and are interoperable with all our systems, like Jabber and IP phones, WebEx, and of course all our other TelePresence units. It does require CUCM 8.6 or above; we’ve just moved all our clusters to 10.0, so that was no problem.

Cool factors

  • Simple, plug-and-play video for any and every meeting.
  • SX10 camera orients itself regardless of how it’s fitted onto a monitor so the recipient of your call will always see you right-side up.
  • Employees can take the SX10 home and connect it to their home HDTV’s for full-flawless, 1080p video calls (assuming they have good Internet access bandwidth).
  • The dual-camera Speaker Track 60 that switches the active camera to always broadcast the active speaker in the room.
  • Power over Ethernet capability to reduce cables and increase energy efficiency.
  • HDMI ports to plug in any output devices, including laptops for presentations on-the-go.
  • Red Dot Award for best endpoint, an industrial design, desirability, and attention award for innovative products.

When we’re done, we’ll have taken advantage of more than a couple hundred video monitors in Cisco rooms around the world, and added a couple hundred more TelePresence units.  (It’s early days yet, so we’re not sure how many we’ll end up with). That should put a dent in the growing demand for more virtual global meetings, more TelePresence to bring Cisco employees together with each other and with customers. But it’s not going to be enough. There are still a lot of locations with no spare video monitors we can take advantage of. We’ve already started deploying Cisco TelePresence MX Series equipment in several select Cisco locations – which I’ll describe in the next blog.

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