UPDATED 12:05 EDT / OCTOBER 15 2019

zoom-rooms INFRA

Zoom announces customized appliances for videoconference meetings

Videoconferencing software company Zoom Video Communications Inc. is talking up the hardware today at its Zoomtopia 2019 event, announcing partnerships with outside suppliers to develop purpose-built appliances for Zoom Rooms.

Zoom is first and foremost a software company. Its core product is Zoom Meetings, which provides a way for business people and others to hold video calls online that are free to participate in. Users can join Zoom Meetings from any location, using pretty much any kind of device, including laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Zoom Rooms is a physical “connector” that’s used to manage the dedicated conference rooms that many large companies have within their offices as well as all the hardware and technology that makes them tick. Typical video conference room hardware might include large monitors, interactive whiteboards, microphones, headphones and so on. Zoom Rooms are designed to make video calls as seamless as possible, enabling a one-click meeting start, effortless screen sharing and more.

Zoom said the new Zoom Rooms appliances its partners are building will be the first custom-developed hardware that enables users to gather room intelligence and analytics. The hardware appliances will also help to simplify installation and management of large-scale conference rooms, Zoom said.

“Innovation from Zoom is once again at the forefront at its annual Zoomtopia user conference,” said Roopam Jain, industry director for unified communications and collaboration at the business consultancy Frost & Sullivan Inc. “I am particularly impressed with innovation in Zoom Rooms. Zoom Rooms has always been a disruptive alternative to costly, walled-off legacy hardware room systems, and the new appliance program enables AV teams to video-enable every huddle and conference room while continuing to offer robust speed of innovation to users.”

Zoom is also keen to enhance the Zoom Rooms experience itself, and it’s doing so with the addition of several new capabilities, including a “Find a Room” feature that lets company employees book meeting spaces via an availability map. Audio-based speaker tracking, meanwhile, allows Zoom Rooms cameras to switch automatically to one of three presets depending on which meeting participant is speaking in a supported microphone. Then there’s Zoom Room Profiles, which allows meeting attendees to switch among various profiles based on what kind of meeting is taking place, including lecture mode, single presenter mode and panel mode.

Other new capabilities include enhancements to digital signage. Now, it’s possible to display multiple content on the same screen at once thanks to a new split-screen feature. Also new is “native control integration,” meaning the Zoom Controller now supports customizable IP-based commands. The benefit is that administrators can add controls for things such as lighting, window shades and other IP-controlled devices in the room.

Zoom’s videoconferencing software is also getting some new tools, including a new artificial intelligence-powered “Live Transcripts” feature powered that can transcribe meetings in real time. And the company has added a new voice note-taking feature that allows users to take notes of their meetings simply by dictating them.

Analyst Holger Mueller of Constellation Research Inc. said those last updates are yet more evidence of how AI is penetrating every aspect of software to improve the way in which people work. “The most important thing is that these tools make users more productive, enabling their employers to experience enterprise acceleration and change the future of work,” he said.

Zoom also announced a couple of key partnerships. For one, Poly, the company formerly known as Plantronics and Polycom, revealed a host of new devices that use Zoom Rooms, including two new video bars that don’t require a personal computer or an Apple Inc. Mac. In addition, the Norwegian video startup Neat launched a series of meeting room systems designed for Zoom Rooms. Zoom also made an investment in Neat.

Photo: Zoom

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