Chromebox for Google+

Here’s an interesting bit of news I caught from Tech Republic earlier this week:

Today Google announced their Chromebox for meetings. Essentially it is a beefed-up i7 ASUS Chromebox that is supposed to make it easier and simpler to hold meetings with Google+ Hangouts, especially in offices and conference rooms.

Here’s the rest of the announcement, broken down:

  1. Google has redesigned the Chromebox as an appliance for Google+ Hangouts in your conference room. It’s no longer listed on the Chrome device website as a desktop computer. It comes with a cliché HD webcam, a hockey puck microphone with call controls suitable for a conference table, and an RF remote with QWERTY keyboard. We can assume based on graphics on their site that the box will run a specialized user interface making it easier to navigate the Chrome OS and setup chats. The specs list the remote having a nano-sized USB port for… well who knows. I call the webcam cliché because it doesn’t offer anything in terms of design to make it easier to position in a conference room. (See the Logitech webcams I mention below)
  2. Vidyo, the company who’s technology Google+ Hangouts is built on, has announced their new product called VidyoH2O (huh?) allowing you to tie your existing big player videoconferencing systems into Google+ Hangouts. For lots of additional money you can use this as an on premise or cloud based system. ($99 per concurrent user plus equipment or $149 per concurrent user for the cloud) It sounds from the press material however that this is just a way to dial into existing Hangouts, not to create or manage them.
  3. UberConference, who seems to run a slick audio only cloud based conference system, is now available as a plugin in Google+ Hangouts. This means people can now dial in for audio only participation in your Hangout, although it wouldn’t work if you were displaying a presentation or demoing a UI.

So awesome, an inexpensive conference room solution for modern video conferences, but why only for Google+ Hangouts? (I mean other than that it’s Google) If your company uses a lot of cloud services aren’t you likely to use different conference solutions too? Skype, GoToMeeting, and the like. Even if your company has embraced Google Apps for Business are all of your customers and conference participants going to want to use Google+? What do you think it will be like giving Google+ Hangouts instructions to someone who hasn’t used them before?

As an alternative, Logitech has a neat line of office accessories for companies including two conference webcams. One of them is a portable upgrade from your built-in laptop camera, for $249:

Logitech BCC950

The Logitech BCC950 has a sturdy base, extendable neck for better lens height, a remote control to control calls and move the lens, and a 360 degree speakerphone. It’s portable enough to make it easy to lend out to co-workers and use it in different rooms and it can be powered by a powered USB port or a power outlet.

They also have a more expensive but more robust option for larger conference rooms, the CC3000e. This can run off of a participant’s laptop or a dedicated conference room computer. Frankly I find these more exciting to use for designing your conference rooms.