People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.
This explicit advice by pioneering computer scientist Alan Kay has thus far been ignored by most vendors of collaborative meeting platforms. Zoom and Microsoft, in particular, have a history of creating partner AV packages and branding them as complete solutions.
Take the $2,599 Zoom Room Huddle Kit Bundle available on Amazon. While the price is right, the solution is most definitely not. The bundle contains a Logitech webcam, PC, iPad Mini, keyboard, and miscellaneous cables. These type of "build it from spare parts in the basement" or "BYO Video Room" solutions are plagued with support issues.
Supporting and patching operating systems on at least 3 different components (camera, PC, iPad)
When something isn't working which manufacturer do you call? Zoom, Logitech, Microsoft, Dell, Apple?
General usability challenges (how do I schedule, join, and conduct a meeting)
That's why it's incredibly exciting that Cisco, the #1 maker of conference room software (Webex) and conference room video hardware, is providing support for Zoom, Microsoft, GoTo Meeting, and any other 3rd party conferencing platform via a USB option on the new Room Kit Mini.
What's the Room Kit Mini? The Room Kit Mini is the latest in Cisco's line of purpose-built (think appliance), low-cost video hardware for the huddle space and conference room.
But just because it's compact and low cost doesn't mean the Mini isn't packing a punch. The unit comes fully loaded, including:
Built-in wireless and wired sharing with up to 4K content share
Microphone and speakers supporting beamforming technology to guarantee crystal clear audio by damping background noise
A camera supporting 120-degree field of view for tight spaces where participants sit close to the screen. The camera also comes with facial detection for automatic framing of participant video (Cisco calls this Best Overview)
The same powerful API and analytics capabilities as Cisco's more substantial video hardware. This includes the People Count API which provides information on room usage by counting and reporting the number of people in any meeting. Do you already have Crestron, AMX, or Extron hardware in the space? The API interface also allows the Cisco touch panel to be the only control interface in the room
My personal favorite, a USB pass-through mode which lets you use the Mini as a webcam, microphone, and speakers for any meeting platform. Yes, the Mini was built primarily for registration with Cisco's Webex service or on-premise CUCM infrastructure and will still provide the absolute best experience using those platforms. But, none of us can always choose how others schedule meetings and it's likely that we'll need to join multiple online meeting types throughout our work week. Now you have a 1st class hardware option, no matter the conferencing platform
Interested in more information on appliance vs. BYO video rooms? Check out a great video the guys over at LookingPoint produced on the Mini's big brother, Room Kit Plus, vs. a Zoom Room.
Finally, remember that when using the Room Kit Mini as a USB pass-through device the quality presented into the meeting will only be as good as the computer and network connected. This is why Cisco has always taken a holistic approach to conferencing, making the hardware and software on both endpoints and the conferencing platform.