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12/3/2009
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Polycom Gives You Videoconferencing On A Budget

We tested three video communications systems for small and midsize businesses.

Of all the collaboration methods available to business workers, it's hard to beat face-to-face interaction. Three products from Polycom aim to put videoconferencing capabilities within the reach of small and midsize businesses, allowing improved communication among co-workers and business partners.

The HDX 6000 is a high-definition conference-room-style videoconferencing system. The QDX 6000 is its lower-definition counterpart. We also tested the Converged Management Application Server and its client component for desktops. All three are designed for IP networks.

I See You

Both the HDX and QDX 6000 come with their own video cameras, each of which has excellent resolution and depth of field. The Converged Management Application client runs on a PC. Cameras aren't included. If you've got end users who'll spend a lot of time on video calls, we recommend spending a little extra for high-quality Web cameras.

We tested each system at our labs. All three systems automatically try both H.323 and SIP to set up a call. If a firewall sits between the end points on an H.323 call, the systems use the H.460 protocol to traverse the firewall.

We used a PacketStorm network emulator to introduce network loss ranging from 0.5% to 3% to see how well Polycom's Loss Packet Recovery technology works. In every case, the system detected the lost data and used forward error correction to calculate a good-quality video output signal. When scenes had little motion, the video was exceptional. Even when the camera recorded some motion, the output was better than would be expected.

While the systems handled packet loss well, they had difficulty with excessive jitter. We added 2, 10, and 20 milliseconds of jitter. The lowest level presented no problem. However, at 20 milliseconds, both sound and video deteriorated significantly. While the latter level would be very unusual, it could show up on a network with bursty data applications. We recommend measuring the level of jitter in the network before you deploy any of these products.

The HDX 6000 supports 30 frames per second of video at bandwidth rates as low as 832 Kbps.

Both conference-room systems were fairly simple to set up. We unpacked, configured, and began conferencing with the HDX 6000 in less than an hour.

These systems offer a strong combination of quality and value and make video communication possible across the enterprise and between business partners for a moderate investment.

The QDX 6000 lists for $3,999 and the HDX 6000 is $5,999. Pricing for CMA starts at $15,000 for 100 client licenses.

Phil Hippensteel is an assistant professor of information systems at Penn State and an industry consultant.

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