Polycom targets high-end videoconferencing market

Taking a page out of the Japanese car makers' playbook, Polycom is looking to offer customers high-end videoconferencing equipment for corporate boardrooms with the release of two new products.

Polycom is beefing up its product line with the new ViewStation FX and VS4000 systems to offer what it calls near-TV quality video and audio for large conference needs, such as boardroom and distance learning applications. Previously, Polycom has served the middle-market arena, selling sub-$10,000 conferencing systems for desktops and small conference rooms.

"Think of this strategy like Toyota introducing Lexus -- it's luxury, but not as expensive and does everything and more [than the higher-priced competitors,]" says Jason Ader, research analyst at H.C. Wainwright & Co. in Boston.

With four times more processing power than its predecessors and the ability to transmit at over 1M bit/sec across T-1 connections, the new units should offer "superior video," says Andrew Davis, managing partner at Wainhouse Consulting Group in Brookline, Mass.

"We've been able to include more annexes to the H.263 standard for better motion handling and background cleanup," says Jennifer Sigmund, group marketing manager for Polycom's video division.

The units feature a four-port bridge that will host four participants at up to 384K byte speeds or three participants at 512K bytes and can stream conferences across the Internet in either Real G2 or Cisco IPTV formats. They also support H.323 (Internet), v.35 (ISDN) and primary rate interface (satellites, frame relay) calls within the same unit. Both new products can interface with room-based remote control units and interface with XGA high-resolution video projectors.

The ViewStation FX is a standard unit with built-in camera and audio equipment, while the VS4000 is a rack-mount system designed to fit in a closet and be used for custom videoconferencing systems. Both support the use of a second camera, dual microphones and remotes, as well as other inputs for mixing audio and data.

Both products will be available in Q1 of next year and are priced between $17,000 and $19,000.

While Polycom claims that this isn't a huge market area for them, it is an expansion of their existing product line that will allow their distributors (the company does not have direct sales) to sell from top to bottom in a company. "This announcement shows the company has its sights set on the whole pie, not just the slice they dominate," Davis says. "If anyone had reasons not to buy Polycom, those reasons have evaporated."

Polycom also announced recently that it signed a deal with Lucent, making it the exclusive provider of videoconferencing equipment to all Lucent's new customers. In 1998, Lucent sold some $20 million in PictureTel equipment, one of Polycom's biggest competitors, says Ader.

The deal also calls for the two companies to jointly develop products in the IP market, such integrating multipoint and other network capabilities into Lucent's next-generation PBX equipment.

This story, "Polycom targets high-end videoconferencing market" was originally published by Network World.

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