According to Greek mythology, the giant Argus Panoptes had 100 eyes, making him the perfect watchman, because only a few eyes would sleep at any given time. Cisco must’ve found a few of them on the Svalbard Islands, in the far northern part of Norway (Norway being home of TelePresence endpoint development at Cisco), to create their newest video devices: the Cisco Spark RoomKit and Cisco Spark RoomKit Plus with the new Quad Camera. The two RoomKits can register, as the name implies, to Cisco’s Spark service, or to traditional on-premises Cisco Unified Communications Manager or VCS-C/Expressway-C. These new devices, launched at Enterprise Connect 2017, bring a new form factor and a host of new features to bear, including Cisco SpeakerTrack features (using those eyes of Argus Panoptes), and release them into the midsize conference rooms and huddlespaces where so much video conferencing growth is happening today.

Is that a Speaker Bar on Your TV, or a Video Endpoint?

Let’s start with the biggest change – form factor. Since time immemorial, video endpoints have generally been a two-piece affair: the codec where all the “brains” of the video endpoint live, and a discrete camera or two. The codec tends to be a small rectangular box that can fit in a rack or be tucked away behind a display, while the camera tends to be a pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) affair with a large lens meant to be mounted atop or below a TV, or elsewhere in a conference room (perhaps the rear, for Cisco PresenterTrack). There are exceptions, for example the all-in-one Cisco SX-10.

SOURCE: Courtesy of Cisco Systems, Inc. Unauthorized use not permitted.

The RoomKit and RoomKit Plus take a page from the SX-10, or more properly, the SX-10N with its integrated speaker for Cisco’s ultrasonic Proximity pairing technology. And they have moved upscale audiowise into a new formfactor for video – something akin to a fully integrated speaker bar, with the camera and high-quality sound in one package. The RoomKit even squeezes the codec into this form factor, though the RoomKit Plus keeps the codec discrete due to the size of the Quad Camera optics.

The Cisco Quad Camera. SOURCE: Courtesy of Cisco Systems, Inc. Unauthorized use not permitted.

With this change, these endpoints can guarantee both high-quality in-room sound without a discrete audio system, and the availability of Cisco Proximity technology, even when the display, which would otherwise be providing sound and the ultrasonic Proximity pairing signal, is turned off or in sleep mode. The need for at-all-times availability of Proximity is perhaps the real driver here, though the high-quality sound is certainly a nice bonus – the audio quality change is definitely user perceptible relative to the tinny 2 x 10-watt speakers of most 55″-70″ displays.

Cisco SpeakerTrack: Now Hands-Free PTZ for Every Room

Outside of the form factor change, the next biggest advance is the availability of Cisco SpeakerTrack across the Cisco portfolio, stretching from huddle space (with RoomKit) to midsize conference room (with RoomKit Plus and Quad Camera) to boardroom (with SX-80 and SpeakerTrack 60, and soon, the Quad Camera).

SOURCE: Courtesy of Cisco Systems, Inc. Unauthorized use not permitted.

To make this happen Cisco, apart from digging up Argus Panoptes’ eye, has taken a page from its PresenterTrack technology. Similar to how PresenterTrack takes a 4K “raw” frame and crops it down to a 1080p view, the RoomKit and the Quad Camera of RoomKit Plus use a 5K sensorwide field-of-view camera (83 degrees) to capture an overall scene, and use face tracking technology and acoustical positioning to trim it down. The devices will do this to both frame the end users in a larger conference room at rest, as well as to focus in on the active speaker(s). Thus, they can quickly switch from an overview of the participants to the active speaker(s) purely digitally, rather than with PTZ cameras à la the SpeakerTrack 60. The Quad Camera of the RoomKit Plus does this one better by using three additional cameras with a narrower field of view (50 degrees) in a left-center-right array, yielding even better close-ups in larger or deeper rooms – borrowing technology from a $200k Immersive TelePresence endpoint and bringing it down into a $18k package.

Other Niceties of a Next-Gen Endpoint

Headline features aside, Cisco’s added some nice “fit-n-finish” to the new RoomKit and RoomKit Plus:

  • A UI overhaul with the CE9.0 software, aligning the interface with the Cisco Spark Board
  • An auto-wake-up capability based on sound and face detection in the conference room (thankfully, this can be disabled!)
  • An ability to count the participants in a conference room, with future promise of exposing this data to create reports on conference room usage
  • Cisco TelePresence Touch 10 control interface is now included with the endpoint
  • Dedicated network interface, with included PoE injector, for the Touch 10 to connect to the device
  • Presentation input/encoding/decoding/output, up to 4K at 60fps
  • Two HDMI display output, allowing for a secondary presentation display, or dual-stream video from a conference bridge
  • HDMI CEC 2.0 support, with automatic display optimization for LG displays
  • Two microphone inputs on RoomKit, three on the RoomKit Plus
  • 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi support

All these extras add flexibility to the overall package.

The Cisco RoomKit, interfaces view. SOURCE: Courtesy of Cisco Systems, Inc. Unauthorized use not permitted.

 


The Cisco RoomKit Plus, interfaces view. SOURCE: Courtesy of Cisco Systems, Inc. Unauthorized use not permitted.

Cisco RoomKit and RoomKit Plus: Raising the Bar

The new Cisco RoomKit and RoomKit Plus continue to raise the bar relative to the market. Between high-quality audio and SpeakerTrack technology for every room, along with reasonable price points, Cisco has built a portfolio hard for their competitors to match. The in-room experience continues to receive attention from Cisco, and to their credit, these new capabilities are a hit with end users. Here at CDW, we’ve been fortunate to have access to RoomKit and RoomKit Plus ahead of release, and the rooms we placed them into (replacing SX-10 and SX-20, respectively) saw increased utilization with many end users commenting about the increasingly “natural” feel of video conferencing.

Are you curious about increasing the ease of use of video conferencing in your organization? Learn more by requesting a Collaboration consultation from CDW.

2 thoughts on “Argus Panoptes Lost an Eye – and Cisco Added It to Its Next-Generation Video Endpoints

  • matthew mcfetridge says:

    Hi Nick,

    just FYI, the spark room kit doesn’t include a POE port onboard. The unit requires and comes with a POE injector on the secondary ethernet interface meant for the touch10. I don’t recall if its the same situation on the room kit+, but it also might require a POE injector. Similar setup to the MX800’s with their external POE injectors.

    mwm

    Reply

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