Disclosure: Microsoft and Lenovo are clients of the author
This week I got a briefing from Crestron about the company’s various video conferencing offerings for home and business. I was struck by the fact that it, like Lenovo and Plantronics, is focused almost entirely on two collaboration products – Zoom, mostly in the public sector, and Microsoft Teams, which is mostly in the private sector.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it feels as if the market is gravitating to two platforms. So, let’s talk a bit about what makes Crestron’s solutions unique, and why Zoom and Teams seem to be the only two platforms in the market gaining interest.
Crestron comes at the market from the home theater space, where its solutions have long been some of the most capable – you can control the lights, drapes, and content from one display. It isn’t a cheap date, but if you’ve seen a well-done home theater system, chances are it has a Crestron head unit.
If you think about a rich experience for video conferencing, many of the same elements are in place. You want to be able to control the lights, sound, drapes, and content easily from a central location – and for business use, the company has added centralized management and control. The high-end system has occupant detection, which then will automatically either free up unused rooms or block rooms that are in use automatically on the related calendars.
Prices range from $900 for a relatively simple system to $5,250 for a room in a box, and both will likely work better if installed by a certified Crestron partner. That’s the same with the company’s home theater systems; they are best set up by those that have been trained to do so. One advantage of this solution is the ability to use a smartphone app as a controller and – eventually – voice command for those that don’t want to chase a control panel.
While this sounds expensive, remember that just a few years ago, integrated high-resolution systems could cost more than $100,000 and be terrible at interoperation and ease of use. We’ve come a long way, and expense is relative.
Zoom and Teams
The exciting part of this remains the gravitation toward Zoom and Teams as the new de facto standards for video collaboration. It’s interesting how the market is segmenting. Teams is most used by corporate groups operating internally and Zoom seems to be most predominant with public entities (schools and government) and for efforts to engage with people externally. (This isn’t 100% the case; I’ve seen some companies use Zoom externally and Teams internally.)
What has endeared these platforms to the market? Both are relatively new, and they are hardware independent, so you can use them on systems from Lenovo, Crestron and Plantronics interchangeably. They also have related apps that allow them to work on smartphones, tablets and PCs.
This is the one lesson this market seemed to have trouble learning, that a communications system is worthless if it doesn’t interoperate across hardware platforms. It has been fascinating because we’ve had phones around for a century and seem to take for granted that they work, yet a similar solution involving video traditionally has not. It would be like having a Sprint phone that only worked with other Sprint phones; nobody would buy the thing. Yet we still have hardware-locked solutions in the market today.
I’ve worked with Lenovo and Plantronics (I have both Plantronics and Lenovo solutions in my home office) and, as noted, was just briefed on Crestron. All of them have one thing in common: they will generally work with Teams and often work with Zoom.
There’s a lesson here for anyone considering video conferencing platforms: whatever solution you buy, it should, at the very least, support both Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Otherwise, you’ll likely find it becoming obsolete in a few short years.