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It was only a matter of time before tablet video cameras became participants in high-end videoconferencing, also known as telepresence. Not video chat; that's entirely different, something that lets grandma coo at junior from afar. No, this is enterprise videoconferencing, courtesy of Fuze Meeting, from FuzeBox. Fuze Meeting already lets iPads in, but with its new front-facing camera, the iPad 2 can also be a video participant. Just for good measure, FuzeBox added a version optimized for Honeycomb (Android 3.0). All of this is available now.
The short version is that Fuze Meeting is a multimedia conferencing experience that works across several platforms, including PCs and Macs in a browser, smartphones (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry), and tablets. That experience includes the ability to share documents, show slide presentations, and run a recorded video file (.mov or .mp4) -- really, any file supported natively on the device -- while also bringing in live video from participants using any connected camera.
What's special about Fuze Meeting is that it can do all that using high-definition video, with up to 100 participants. That is, 100 participants viewing video; only 10 video transmitters allowed, but that's starting to approach what's practical anyway. All over low-latency connections, thanks to the use of Vidyo's Adaptive Video Layering technology, which can detect and adapt to an end user's bandwidth. It uses Scalable Video Coding (SVC), which is part of the H.264 video compression extension.
FuzeBox says users can even participate over 3G connections, but in a quick test with the vendor, an iPad 2 struggled to keep up with the video, and even shared files came across slowly, though our live video came through just fine, we were told. The software was still in beta (FuzeBox was demonstrating on beta servers), and the Verizon 3G coverage was sub-optimal. We didn't test the hosted service and client-side application on Android, though it was running just fine in a demonstration at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, in the Google exhibit, Fuze Box executives told us.
Previous versions provided lots of audio options, including an integrated function for making a Skype call (entering the Fuze Meeting room number that gets created during meeting setup), or using a standard phone to call a toll-based number. These are the desktop or browser options. The iPad version had a "Fuze In" SIP-based VoIP function. Previously, this capability required a headset because of the iPad's poor echo cancellation, but FuzeBox has worked through this shortcoming with Apple. Still, company executives recommend a headset for the best quality. It would be great to see audio chat support for Microsoft OCS/Lync, rather than just Skype.
There are some user experience enhancements, including a pop-out for the video pane and the ability to resize video windows and pin those windows wherever users want. It's possible to record Fuze Meetings.
The tablet and mobile versions can't initiate desktop sharing (the desktop version can; iOS doesn't allow screen sharing and Android can do so only with root access), but iPad 2 and Android tablet users can share content or become presenters. Whiteboarding comes only with the Mac and PC versions, though whiteboard content can be viewed on the iPad and, soon, on Android.
Sadly, Apple's Airplay isn't included in the iOS version of Fuze Meeting, but the new iPad 2 does come with HDMI out if big screen functionality is needed.
There will be competition, of course. Cisco's WebEx runs on the iPad and receives video, though it still can't initiate it. Cisco also doesn't have an Android 3.0 version of WebEx . . . yet. There's Skype for Android, but it doesn't support video. And there's no iPad version. As Skype continues to add enterprise conference and file sharing features, it could be a formidable low-cost challenger.
Surely, when Cisco releases its Cius Android tablet (expected very soon), it will include the full telepresence experience. Moreover, Avaya has been making noise with its Flare (see video demonstration further below), which is purpose built for videoconferencing, the company says.
But FuzeBox is the first to strike in this important category, making the tablet that much more of a professional productivity device.
The video-capable version, Fuze Pro, costs $69 per month per user for the next 30 days; it will list at $99 thereafter. Call usage pricing for an account is 6 cents per minute; add $9 per month for international "toll free" calling, with non-toll-free usage charges ranging from 40 cents 57 cents per minute depending on country, company officials said.