Cisco TelePresence is designed to create a virtual reality, to make you feel like you’re face-to-face with people, no matter how far away you are in the world. That used to take a lot of complex, standardized, in-room design, color, lighting and deployment. We had to custom-build the rooms, put in special lighting and tables, and more. Each new room was an added expense. I have to admit, though, the end result was awesome. Working with people over immersive telepresence, I pretty much forget the technology after a few minutes, and I’m not really aware of anything but being in the same room with the people in front of me.
In my last blog, we saw how the Cisco TelePresence SX Series lets us take advantage of existing, standalone video screens (or home HDTVs) to create low-cost, high-def video conferencing endpoints. Since there are a lot of rooms at Cisco that don’t have any existing video screens, we’re starting to use the Cisco TelePresence MX Series to set up video conferencing in just a few minutes, without having to restructure and redesign a whole meeting room from scratch. Not only that, but the MX Series uses less bandwidth, so it’s a lot cheaper to support. The MX Series is great for startups, smaller companies, and people just starting out with video and trying to save money where bandwidth is expensive: Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia for example. But it also works for large enterprises that want to deploy broadly throughout their organizations. Cisco IT is in process of doing just that, adding to our videoconference capabilities worldwide at a lower cost.
The MX Series are integrated systems that has its own video screen. The MX200 and MX300 are very to easy use, install and deploy for small-to-medium rooms. You can take it from box to call in as little as 10 minutes, but I’ve seen people do it in less than five minutes. The MX700 and MX800 are bigger and higher performance products – providing high definition audio and video experience for medium-to-large rooms. They are lightweight for their size, but you will still want help getting them out of the box and set up.
As a user, I like how the MX systems look (see below), and just like other telepresence equipment, they’re still really easy to use. As an IT guy, I have to admire the plug-and-play facet. Once you’ve planned out where you want to put everything, and after you’ve done it a couple times, it only takes about 10 minutes to set up the MX200 or MX300 units. There’s still some planning involved: it’s a lot like setting up a good entertainment system. You’ve got to think about windows and bright light in the room, and position the monitor to minimize glare. You should put the microphones near where people will sit but far enough away from each other to avoid interference. You need to position the speakers where attendees will get optimal sound quality. And when you’re done setting it up, the video and sound quality is really impressive.
There’s a little more to it than that though. For the best experience, you should set up the system preferences and settings for the audio and cameras, network connections, and security. The good news is that there’s an easy web interface to use and also some good user documentation that comes with the system and walks you through it. Once you do it a few times, it comes pretty easily.
The screens are all high definition and range from 42-inch to 70-inch, so the MX Series can serve just about any room or meeting size.
For smaller rooms, the MX200 G2 and MX300 G2 by themselves make any room a video-enabled collaboration hub. And a neat feature of the MX300 G2 is the flexibility of additional monitors dedicated to content sharing. In other words, meeting participants on screen no longer go into PIP mode whenever content is shared if you don’t want them too. I sometimes find it annoying when a slide is pulled up and I want to see the reactions on participants’ faces, but they’ve suddenly become too small to see! Part of the collaborative benefits of using telepresence is to feel as though you’re in the same room. Thankfully, the MX series was designed with that in mind. They also feature ‘intelligent proximity’ enabling participants to view content on their personal devices, like tablets and smartphones, instead of on the video screen. Not only does that free up screen space so you can see each other, it also lets participants move through content at their own pace without disrupting the presentation.
For medium-to-large meeting rooms, the MX700 and MX800 are tailored to specifications including camera height, screen size and resolution, and the speaker system. Another cool feature of these solutions has to be the studio-like camera work I’d mentioned in the previous blog: that is, the dual camera speaker tracking solution. I think it makes a large and complex discussion look like it’s being done in a professional studio, with multiple cameras tracking each speaker and showing you exactly what you want to see. And it’s not just me. “I think the best feature is the speaker tracking ability,” says Ravi Sharma, manager, TelePresence services in GIS, “It’s going to improve the user experience, especially in large rooms. It’s going to change the way we interact with people.”
Cisco’s patented solution allows participants to focus on their meeting, while the cameras track the speakers wherever they are in the room. The cameras can follow the speaker, focus on the speaker’s face, and then present the new speaker centered on screen. They also have customizable presets so one will capture the room while the other can capture a presenter at a whiteboard. With up to eight tabletop microphones connected, everyone is heard, and that is important in conference calls. The MX Series also comes with ability to bridge other locations without any back end equipment. So you don’t need a fancy video service in the network to host a four-way conference on the MX200/MX300 and a five-way conference on the MX700/MX800.
“The MX Series are also lighter, brighter, and fit into modern spaces with their elegant design,” explains Terell Johnson, IT analyst, Global Infrastructure Services. Paired with the Touch 10 user interface, ease of use and great design, the MX Series feels intuitive and makes telepresence that much better.