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TECHnalysis Research Blog

February 2, 2021
Poly Makes Videoconferencing Personal

By Bob O'Donnell

Given the massive amount of time that most of us spend on video calls these days, it’s not surprising to see more focus being placed on improving that experience. Until recently, most of the attention has been directed towards enhancements in software platforms, like Microsoft’s Teams, Zoom, Cisco’s Webex, and Google Meet. While those are certainly important, at the end of the day, what you really need to improve the quality of video calls is better hardware.

So, it’s great to see Poly (the merged combination of Polycom and Plantronics) unveil a new line of personal videoconferencing-focused hardware with its new Studio P series of products. The Poly Studio P5 is a standalone webcam with the unique capability of integrating a USB pass-through port on the back into which you can plug one of the company’s wireless headset dongles or other high-quality microphone. The Poly Studio P15 is a personal video bar designed to sit on top of monitors that steps things up with a 4K camera, automatic camera framing, integrated speakers, and a multi mic array that incorporates the company’s NoiseBlock AI and Acoustic Fence technologies for muting unintended noises (like barking dogs, etc.)

Finally, the Studio P21 Conferencing Display is essentially a USB-attached 21” monitor that integrates a camera, speakers, and microphone into it (as well as wireless charging in its monitor base). Best of all, it also includes lighting around the display bezel to improve the camera image quality in a variety of different environments. In addition, because it doesn’t contain any hardware codecs, the P21 can easily work with any and all videoconferencing platforms you need to run on a connected PC.

What’s particularly interesting about these new products isn’t just the hardware capabilities—though they certainly appear to be solid—but the software and services that Poly is also making available along with them. In particular, the ability to remotely manage these PC peripherals via the Poly Lens cloud-based service is going to be hugely attractive for many companies that have been struggling to support work-from-home users’ video call-related issues.

Toss in a new service called Poly+, that even individuals can purchase (at a cost of 15% of the product price for 1 year or 40% of the price for 3 years), and it’s clear how the company is separating itself from the wide range of standalone web cams already available on the market. What’s attractive about Poly+ is that it offers a 24/7 help line that provides, appropriately enough, video-calling support—including through your smartphone, in case your webcam is down.

Finally, the Poly Lens App provides a simple way to configure or adjust settings on the products, learn how to best use them and, most intriguingly, adds additional capabilities designed to help you with wellness and focus. One feature that could prove to be particularly interesting to many is called Soundscaping.

Originally designed by the pre-merger Plantronics as a means to improve the audio environment in tightly packed, cube-filled or open office buildings, Soundscaping basically consists of piped in environmental sounds (such as a babbling brook, ocean waves, etc.). The benefit is that it turns out, not only does a white noise-like audio background drown out the conversations of nearby co-workers, it actually helps people relax and focus. In fact, there’s a whole branch of study called Biophilic Science that’s dedicated to understanding how natural sounds and images can influence our attention, concentration, and even cognitive functioning. The original office-based version of Soundscaping accompanied the audio with video screens of streams and/or in-wall waterfalls, but for now, the Poly Lens App version only includes the audio. The ultimate goal, however—to help improve your focus while you’re working, while also drowning out nearby noise distractions—remains. Having had a demo of the very effective original version several years back, it will be interesting to see how well it works in this form.

In the early days of the pandemic, many people were content with the cameras built into the notebook PCs, but as time spent working at home has dragged on (and looks like it will continue to do so for at least several more months), there’s significantly more awareness of the varying quality in video conferencing hardware. In fact, I’m sure we’ve all been on calls where it’s easy to tell who has good cameras, microphones, and lighting—and who doesn’t. Because of that, there are many more people who are interested in upgrading their videoconferencing hardware so that they can make a better impression among co-workers, colleagues, and partners. In that context, it’s great to see Poly extend its reach from in-office room systems to more personal options.

Here’s a link to the original column:

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

Leveraging more than 10 years of award-winning, professional radio experience, TECHnalysis Research participates in a video-based podcast called Everything Technology.
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