Dell’s partnership with Google grows, affordable group video conferencing gets closer

Today, Dell announced that it will be bolstering the company’s relationship with Google and launching a Chrome-based video conferencing solution targeted at businesses.  

A couple of items makes this announcement rather interesting. First, it is Google and Dell working together to make this platform work. Second, the device will likely be the lowest cost (both to buy and use) system yet in market and could actually have a larger impact on how meetings are done than earlier offerings. 

I’m personally getting really tired of flying to meetings so if this gets my butt off of even one or two plane trips a year I’m all for it. However, I’ve followed video conferencing since it was first showcased back in 1965 and it has always fallen a bit short of expectations. Originally, it was simply way to expensive and difficult to use then it slowly became cheaper and far easier to use. Now it is damned affordable and if you can use Skype, you can video conference, so what’s the hang up?

Let’s talk video conferencing this week. 

The Promise

The promise of video conferencing is easy – all of the benefits of traveling to a meeting without the travel part. You simply have to step into a conference room turn on the system and suddenly you are transported to a magical place where people who are thousands of miles away can talk to you just like they are in the room. No traveling to airports, no getting felt up by some strange TSA agent, no missed planes, small seats, horrible airplane meals, home sickness, jet lag or lost work time. You move from meeting to meeting and location to location just by simply calling a different number. So why isn’t business air travel obsolete? Why do even executives who sell video conferencing gear get on planes and travel a lot to sell it?

The Problem

The problem was initially thought to be a combination of things. The systems required a specialist to get to work, the resolution was often below SD, the latency was horrible, and a good system costs tens of thousands of dollars. But over the years resolutions came up to HD, they became very simple to use, and a really good system cost thousands of dollars. Oh, and with VOIP latency became a thing of the past. It turned out the sustaining problem was that meetings were as much about actually getting to know people as they were about the actual meeting – yet much of that interaction happened outside of the meeting room. This means that anyone remote was at a severe disadvantage, Meaning, not only would the jokes (they didn’t hea)r be about them but the remote folks felt out of the loop, kind of like second class citizens.  

Recently, there has been an attempt to use Telepresence robots to address this problem. While these used to be really expensive the use of iPads or other as the central controller, speaker, microphone, and screen has dropped the price significantly. The ‘bots allow the remote attendees to remotely pilot robots, typically on two or more wheels, while seeing through the robots eyes, hearing through their ears and speaking through their mouths. However, they (understandably) don’t get invited to dinner and you really don’t see them standing in the back of the room having a chat with anyone. They have been effective with remote students for classrooms – particularly when the student is contagious or has a major immune deficiency.  

Chromebox For Meetings And Dell

The solution is a Chromebox, basically a Google thin client device, coupled with a Logitech or other HD camera, a wired speaker, a controller and Google Hangouts. The service costs $149 a month for Google’s cloud offering or you can use a service like UberConference for $10 (both are month to month subscriptions). The hardware should cost more than the Asus offering which is set at $999 but will likely include a better camera and a richer set of services from Dell.   

The result? An easier and cheaper solution. People, thanks to services like Skype and Hangouts, are getting far more comfortable with this camera approach so it should be more popular. People are also having side conferences with SMS and over email and social networks somewhat reducing that feeling of being left out if you are remote. In the end it will be interesting to see if this goes where no prior service has gone before and truly eliminates business travel. 

We’ll see.