Recently I wrote about the Microsoft Surface Hub, an oversized version of the Surface tablet intended for meeting rooms, explaining how it may represent the future of conference room communications systems. Now this week we have news from Google, which announced a new, larger version of its Chromebox for meetings offering.
Chromebox for meetings takes a different tack at more or less the same thing that Surface Hub is targeting. Rather than an all-in-one solution, Chromebox takes a slimmed-down approach. You get a camera, one or two microphone/speaker devices (depending on model), a remote control and the Chromebox hardware box, which is based on a 4th generation Intel Core i7 processor.
It all integrates with Google Hangouts, which supports videoconferences with up to 15 participants. And it comes with management and support for a $250 annual fee, with the first year included in the base price.
Comparing Chromebox for Meetings and Surface Hub
That price tag starts at $999 for the small room bundle, with one mic/speaker – suitable for up to 8 people. This week Google announced a larger version with a pan-tilt-zoom camera, a second mic/speaker and dual screen support, so you can connect two monitors and the extra speakerphone (which sure looks like a Jabra Speak). It’s suitable for rooms with up to 20 people and starts at $1,999. (The exact price depends on which model you choose, from either Asus or Dell.) You have to add your own monitor to complete the solution.
The lower-end, 55-inch Surface Hub, on the other hand, goes for $6,999. Chromebox is clearly focusing on creating an affordable video meeting room solution, and not a giant tablet, touchscreen experience, but to to make it a fair comparison you’d have to add a monitor. If you wanted to run your meetings on a touch screen monitor, I turned up this 55-inch touch model for $3,279. That brings the tab for the larger Chromebox setup to $5,278. If doesn't look like there are advance touchscreen features like using the monitor as a whiteboard with Chromebox, so it’s up to you whether the big touch screen monitor is worth it. Without it, you could save some serious coin.
The point is, either way you go we are now seeing room-based conference room systems for a fraction of the price that you’d historically pay for a traditional videoconferencing system.
Do You Really Need Chromebox for Meetings?
The next question is, if you’re using Google Hangouts, do you really need Chromebox for meetings? Can’t you just hook up any computer to a big monitor, attach some microphones, a Jabra mini speakerphone, a camera and have at it?
Sure, I see no reason you couldn’t do that. But a commenter to a post about the Chromebox on the Official Google for Work Blog site fairly nailed the argument for the Chromebox:
The hardest part of any A/V solution is not just assembling the right blend of components that perform at a level of fidelity required. The greatest challenge is finding the hardware that plays nice together 100% of the time. As someone who has supported multiple integrated solutions in large conference rooms for a fortune 500, it is surprisingly disappointing how often small anomalies manifest. USB PTZ suddenly has choppy frame rates. Low and behold, when you research the issue you then discover that your one specific model of PTZ doesn't work in Wisconsin during Spring when the wind blows from the South. The value of a pre-assembled kit can be very appealing.
And when the price tag is at most $1,999, and you’d probably spend about half that on a decent computer to run the software anyway, it doesn’t seem like a bad deal at all, especially with the rapid adoption of huddle rooms and huddle spaces. Let me know in the comments below if you agree or think I’m all wet.