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Polycom Adds Whiteboard To Unified Communications

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Videoconferencing vendor Polycom on Thursday introduced the UC Board, a capability added to its HDX room-based videoconferencing and unified communication systems that captures the image on a conference room whiteboard and transmits it to other conference rooms on a call.

Polycom, like other UC system vendors, has managed to add elements that can be incorporated into a conference such as audio, video, document sharing and PowerPoint presentations, said John Antanaitis, vice president of product marketing at Polycom.

"The last thing in the room that we were never able to connect was the whiteboard," Antanaitis said.

Some participants in a meeting often jump up and start writing on the whiteboard as they brainstorm ideas, making a list, sketching a diagram, or otherwise annotating the content, he said. Until now, the only way to capture that image was to take a photo of the board with a smartphone or train the video camera on the board to share it with others.

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The Polycom UC Board shares the image via a compact infrared sensor that attaches to a whiteboard and a wireless stylus that a meeting participant uses to write on the whiteboard. The sensor plugs into the videoconferencing system through a USB port and the image is shared with the other meeting participants at the distant locations. The content stream is enabled by the H.239 video protocol, he said.

The device can also enable someone to annotate an LCD screen image, such as when a doctor is sharing an MRI image with a patient or a specialist. "If you're a doctor, you can circle where the tear is in the ligament. All this can be done over distance very clearly," Antanaitis said.

The initial version of the UC Board only enables one-way annotating, he added, so someone writing on a whiteboard in Los Angeles can share the image with people in Chicago, but the people in Chicago can't write on the whiteboard simultaneously with those in L.A. A two-way capability is on the roadmap for future versions of the product.

The stylus has a series of buttons on it that allows a presenter to advanced slides in a PowerPoint presentation without having to also use a mouse or other remote control for the slides. It also allows the presenter to write in black "ink" on a white background or in white "ink" on a black background and also in a number of other colors.

Polycom has been an active player in the growing videoconferencing market as businesses incorporate video into their unified communications platforms to collaborate with meeting participants at distant locations. Polycom's chief rival is Cisco Systems, which this week upgraded its TelePresence videoconferencing platform with new models.

Earlier this month, Polycom introduced RealPresence Mobile, which lets people join a videoconference from Android and Apple tablet computers.

Wainhouse Research puts Polycom's share of the global video infrastructure market, based on revenue, at 25% in the first quarter, second to Cisco's 52% share. For the infrastructure market as a whole, Wainhouse reports that revenue grew by 24% in the first quarter compared to the first quarter of 2010.

Last month, videoconferencing vendor Logitech added a cloud option for users of its LifeSize system.