For organizations that want to provide roving and remote users the ability to pop into a meeting, Polycom Telepresence m100 might be just the ticket.
Polycom designed this Windows-based video conferencing package to work with most notebook and desktop computers. It also can communicate with other standards-based conferencing systems, including high-end conference room and office installations.
For this review, I tested the product on a variety of platforms, including the HP Professional Workstation, but did the primary testing on a Lenovo ThinkPad T410 with a built-in camera. Polycom points to that as the targeted use. My notebook was connected to the test network using an 802.11n wireless connection, while the desktop system used a Gigabit Ethernet connection. Both would be typical in an organization's environment.
Once installed and configured by the IT department, the Telepresence m100 software is easy to use. The application starts automatically by default and resides in a window that appears on the side of the user's screen. Once it starts up, m100 initializes the camera (whether built-in or attached) and is ready for use.
When not in use, the viewer displays whatever the camera captures, which usually is whomever is using the computer at the time. Users who find this unnerving can quit the app until it's needed.
Initiating a call to join a video conference simply requires choosing the correct entry in the application's address book. The address book keeps track of the IP and H.323 address numbers for each video conferencing endpoint, so initial set up is probably best left to the IT department. Afterward, however, users can add callers to the address book with a simple mouse click.
Every camera tried during testing worked with the software, despite the fact that many were not listed as acceptable in Polycom's documentation. That means users likely will be able to run the app no matter what kind of camera is built in to their notebook computers.
Why It Works for IT
Setting up the m100 software for initial use requires IT support. Although the configuration menus are available to users, it's unlikely that they will have the technical skills required to configure the software.
It's also unlikely that users will have the necessary addressing information because placing a call requires knowing the IP addresses and the H.323 extensions at the other end. Fortunately, a systems administrator can set up a global address book for the organization and avoid the necessity of updating each user's address book individually.
Once the global address book is available, users can call one another on their own simply by clicking address book entries. The only difficulty for such connections would be with remote users on a network using network address translation (NAT). Those users would either have to know the external IP address of the network they were using or to connect using a virtual private network (VPN). But calling within a network that uses NAT works well, even with normally nonroutable IP addresses.
The m100 can easily be configured for low-bandwidth situations, such as a hotel Wi-Fi network. But there is a caveat: The IT department would need to provide users with the configuration details for such situations.
Polycom Telepresence m100 is tricky to configure if the network uses NAT or the user is in a situation where the router's external address cannot be determined easily, such as in a hotel.
In situations where the external address changes (for example, a cable network using the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol), the m100 software must be reconfigured each time the address changes. The only solution in such cases is to use a VPN that connects to the same network as the other video conferencing stations to which a user needs to connect.
Video Conferencing Versus Telepresence
At first glance, there seems to be little to differentiate regular old video conferencing from what Polycom and others are calling telepresence.
In reality, telepresence is a form of video conferencing that uses higher resolution images, better audio and is usually more flexible. In a telepresence environment, for example, you could view the other end of the conversation on a high-definition screen while you send the other party HD images of your own.
Additionally, the audio quality would be good enough that participants would sound as if they were in the room. The idea is to have the conference with the same realism as if they were there. Think of it as video conferencing on steroids.