LifeSize: HD Video Conferencing for Small Businesses

By Stuart J. Johnston | Posted July 22, 2010

Video conferencing system vendor LifeSize officially announced this week new software and infrastructure updates meant to enhance the company's low cost high-definition (HD) video conferencing systems for small businesses.

A subsidiary of Logitech (NASDAQ: LOGI, Lifesize released its latest system software (version 4.7), which adds the capability to share data such as spreadsheets and slide presentations during video conferences -- without swapping cables -- using LifeSize's Passport and LGExecutive systems, the company said in a statement.

Announced in early June, the LGExecutive unit, which combines the company's video conferencing "appliance" with an HD monitor, is due out later this quarter, according to the statement.

Additionally, version 2 of the company's LifeSize Desktop software for video conferencing from a PC or laptop (available in August), now supports both data sharing as well as adding 720p, 30-frames-per-second HD communications. LifeSize Desktop costs $199.


"[These] high definition video conferencing offerings and product enhancements [are designed] to help enterprises, teleworkers, mobile employees and executives collaborate more efficiently, with less hardware and more robust management capabilities," the firm's announcement said.

Also coming this month is LifeSize Virtual Link, which lets you share data over the network with your video conferencing colleagues without swapping video cables. That is an important addition, according to one analyst.

"A very high percentage of video conferences include slide presentations," Ira Weinstein, analyst and partner at Wainhouse Research, an analysis firm that follows rich media and unified communications technologies, told Small Business Computing.

"They've come out with a software solution that lets you connect to the system via IP [Internet Protocol]," Weinstein added.

Both the Passport and LGExecutive units come as dedicated hardware appliances that run a version of Linux.

The Passport is a sleek black unit about the size of a small tablet computer, while the LGExecutive, powered by LifeSize, comes as a 24-inch LG flat panel display with the appliance built into it. The LifeSize Desktop software supports PCs only. Virtual Link for data sharing to endpoint supports both PC and Mac.

Mouse maker Logitech, which among other products also makes Web cams, bought the seven-year-old LifeSize last December.

Low Cost HD Conferencing

Though not strictly designed for small businesses, LifeSize's products can fit very well in that area. "They pack a lot of performance into a very competitive package that's pretty inexpensive," Weinstein said.

For example, although video conferencing systems can easily run to the tens of thousands of dollars to implement -- a LifeSize Passport offers HD communications for well less than that. One small perk -- the LifeSize software also supports Skype calls.

"The appliances start at [about] $2,500," Michael Helmbrecht, vice president of product marketing for LifeSize, told Small Business Computing.

In fact, in a quick check of prices on ecommerce sites, a LifeSize Passport with an HD camera starts at approximately $2,799.99. Meanwhile, LifeSize's LGExecutive will cost $2,999, according to the company.

"Price point has always been a strong point in the LifeSize line," Weinstein said. "As budgets are cut, travel is curtailed, and there is more use [of video conferencing]," he added.

That's Helmbrecht's point. Video conferencing as a business communications tool can drive productivity and help a business stand out at a time when many small businesses are cutting back on travel budgets.

"The productivity benefit is important for small businesses that are constrained by budget so this [inexpensive HD conferencing] can be a real differentiator," Helmbrecht added.

Cutting Back on Frequent Flying

Greg Baxter, director of IT and targeted marketing for Vanguard Truck Centers, a large truck dealership headquartered in Atlanta but with four dealerships in Texas and Arizona, isn't sorry he made the investment in LifeSize teleconferencing systems.

Besides Atlanta, Vanguard has dealerships in Tucson, Phoenix, Austin and Houston.

"Mainly, [the LifeSize system] was a very impressive unit that was high definition and had an attractive price point," Baxter told Small Business Computing.

Before LifeSize, Vanguard's two top executives were spending a total of 16 work days -- eight days apiece -- on the road every month to meet with management at each dealership and review sales for the period.

"We were flying our CEO and CFO around to the dealerships every month," Baxter said. Now, instead of time spent on planes and in hotel rooms, not counting lost work time, meetings can be held anywhere the company has a LifeSize system in place.

"[LifeSize] not only saved air fare and kept them free to work, but it also gave us a lot of flexibility," Baxter added. It also doesn't require a lot of Baxter's time because it's low maintenance and easy to use.

In fact, he uses the PC software, LifeSize Desktop, to communicate with the company's other locations from outside the office.

"When I'm working from home, I can talk to our units using a Web cam," he said.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.

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